Roman Augustoviz spends Minnesota's winters covering college hockey, specifically the Gophers, and other University of Minnesota sports. During the summer, he writes about the WNBA's Minnesota Lynx, with a dose of U sports sprinkled in. Follow him on Twitter @RomanStrib.
Gophers coach Don Lucia expects to lose two forwards from his top line for the Mariucci Classic later this month.
Sophomore center Nick Bjugstad and freshman left winger Kyle Rau will probably get invitations on Monday to participate in a pre-World Juniors Championships camp from Dec. 17-23 in Camrose, Alberta.
There will be about 30 players at the camp. Twenty-two will make the U.S. team roster for the World Junior Championships starting Dec. 26 and running until Jan. 5.
Asked about Gophers likely to make the team, Lucia said, "There are a couple of guys on our team. Obviously, Bjugey played last year. I am sure he will be on the team this year. Kyle has certainly played himself into contention.
"There has been some dialogue with the [USA Hockey] staff. They have been here scouting. I have talked to Tim Taylor about it. He was here for a weekend watching the guys."
Taylor is USA Hockey's director of player development.
Certainly, their statistics alone make a strong case for Bjugstad and Rau. Bjugstad has 15 goals in 16 games and is tied for first in scoring nationally with 25 points. Rau has 10 goals and 18 points, more than any other freshman.
"Kyle is an example of a kid who wasn’t in their junior [evaluation] camp this summer [at Lake Placid, N.Y], but obviously the way he has played, he has played with Bjugey, he is in the conversation," Lucia said.
Sophomore defenseman Justin Holl was at USA Hockey's evaluation camp in August, but did not make the cut when they reduced the number of players there halfway through it. He is more of a longshot to make the U.S. team.
"Whoever we lose, we will only lose [them] for the two games," Lucia said. "They will return the Friday before we play Notre Dame in that hall of fame game. ... We will get our guys back for that."
The No. 4/5 Gophers play the No. 2 Irish (10-3-3) on Saturday, Jan. 7.
WJC players will miss the Mariucci Classic on Dec. 30-31. The Gophers will play Niagara (3-5-4) in their first game and either Northeastern (4-7-2) or Princeton (3-7-1) in their second game.
"Anytime you can wear the USA sweater it is a tremendous honor and it is good for our program to have those kids," Lucia said. "Do we miss them? Yeah. Is it going to hurt us? Yeah. But in the long run for those players to have an opportunity to play in such an event, especially this year in Canada --. I don’t think the people in our country have any idea how big the World Juniors tournament is. If they are going up to Canada, it is every bit as big as the Olympics, or really the Super Bowl."
LINE-UP CHANGE TEMPORARY
Lucia sat two freshman forwards last Saturday, Sam Warning and Seth Ambroz. But by Monday, they were both back in their regular spots, Warning at left wing on the second line and Ambroz at right wing on the third line.
"We took [Sam] and Seth out of our line-up on Saturday," Lucia said. "Sometimes we can take a step back to step forward. I just thought it would be good for them. They were pressing a bit offensively -- that it would be good to sit up and watch a game. And maybe at times the game slows down and you see where you should go and [what] you should do.
"Both of them have done a lot of nice things on our team," Lucia said. "A guy like Seth, he is exactly what our program needs, a big, strong power forward and his best days are going to be ahead of him. [He's] been a little big unlucky. He just needs to get that goal to get untrack, the same with Sam."
Warning had three goals and three assists for six points. He is a plus-4. But he has taken only 17 shots on net and has not had a point in his last nine games.
Ambroz has two goals and one assist for three points. He has taken 31 shots, is a plus-2 but is pointless his past 10 games.
* Warning is the Gophers' first player from Missouri, Chesterfield to be exact. That's a suburb of St. Louis. "There is an example, a lot like Dallas right now or Phoenix where you have guys that went there and played pro hockey," Lucia said. "[Now] they live there, they have kids they coach [on] youth teams.
"Now you have pockets of players that are coming, whether it is St. Louis or whether is is Colorado or Dallas or Phoenix or L.A. It is not just Minnesota, Massachusetts and Michigan anymore. There are a lot of great players from throughout the country."
DORR FOUND NICHE
Midway through his freshman season at Minnesota, Mike Dorr left the program. He wound up at Minnesota State.
"He wasn’t playing a lot and, like a lot of kids, it is a lot of work," Lucia said. "He made a decision that he wanted to try to get more ice time. He ended up going to Minnesota State and it has worked out well for him. He is getting a chance to play on a regular basis.
"He is a senior now and he played junior hockey, he is older, he is experience and he is a guy they count on to score for them."
In 12 games this season, Dorr has one goal and five assists for six points. All of his points have come in the past seven games. Dorr, of Roseville, is a Mavericks co-captain this season. He has 18 goals and 30 assists for 48 points in his college career.
GOALIE SHUFFLE AT MANKATO
Minnesota State coach Troy Jutting played three goalies last weekend in a 5-4 loss and a 5-5 overtime tie with Alaska Anchorage.
Senior Austin Lee play Friday, making 19 saves. He is 3-7-0, with a 3.44 goals-against average and a .907 save percentage.
Junior Phil Cook started Saturday, but for the third time in his past three games, was pulled. The Seawolves scored on five of seven shots on Cook. He was gone at 7:26 of the second period.
Cook is 0-3-0 with a 6.68 gaa and a .791 save pct.
Freshman Evan Karambelas replaced Cook and, in his first college game, stopped all six shots he faced.
It will be interesting to see which two goalies the Mavericks bring to Mariucci Arena this weekend. Cook, who beat the Gophers twice last season in one-goal games, might not be on the bus. He is a terrible slump.
So does the goalie shuffle at MSU cause the Gophers scouting problems?
"We don’t spend much time worrying about who the [other team's] goalie is," Lucia said. "You spend a lot of time worrying about who the goalie is and you are shooting over the net and hitting the glass.
"We spend most of our time worrying about ourselves -- [we want to] continue to try to grow and get better. Who the other team's goalie is, really doesn’t make any difference."
A media member with a comical bent suggested to Don Lucia that the solution to the Gophers' string of Friday night losses might be to schedule Saturday-Sunday series.
The Don did not laugh. "I don’t look at it as we have a big problem as much as we have played some tough road games," said Lucia, in his 13th year as the Gophers head coach. "If you look at the big picture of where we are at, we are in really good shape."
The Gophers are 11-4-1 overall -- they are the nation's only team with 11 victories although a number of top teams like Merrimack (10 games, 9-0-1) and Colorado College (11 games, 7-4-0) have played far fewer games. The Gophers also are in first place in the WCHA standings -- by one point over Minnesota Duluth and two points over Nebraska Omaha.
"We have got out to some bad starts on Friday on the road," Lucia said.
He's right there. The Gophers trailed Wisconsin 3-0 at the Kohl Center until scoring a consolation goal in the last two minutes.
They were down 4-1 to St. Cloud State at the National Hockey Center before rallying for two goals in the second half of the third period.
They were down 2-0 to Michigan State last Friday and lost 4-3.
"Maybe you can overcome that [multiple-goal deficits] at home," Lucia said, " but when you are playing good quality opponents on the road, it just makes it that much more difficult."
The Gophers have a string of seven home games through early January starting with a series this weekend with lowly Minnesota State Mankato, tied for 11th place in the WCHA. Of course, the Mavericks are 5-1 in their last six meetings with the Gophers.
INJURIES PLAGUE MAVS
"When you look at their year, you can sum it up by injuries," Lucia said, referring to the Mavericks' struggles. "I don’t know who they have and who they don’t have, but it is awfully difficult at any level when you are playing without half a dozen players you expect to have in your line-up.
"We went through that last November and it is no fun. They have some good freshman that are obviously playing very well for them. But more than anything else, they are waiting to get their guys back."
Lucia said he worried about the Gophers' blue line corps before the start of this season. Not anymore.
"I am really happy with where they are at," he said. "That was a big question mark coming into the season. We had lost three players who played regularly last year."
That would be seniors Cade Fairchild, who made his NHL debut with the St. Louis Blues on Tuesday, and Kevin Wehrs and junior Aaron Ness, who left school early to sign a pro contract.
Among the D-men back were sophomores Jake Parenteau and Nate Schmidt. "[They were] two guys who played off and on [as freshmen], but did not have much experience," Lucia said, "and we had to count on those guys this year.
"Our three sets [of defensemen] are pretty balanced," Lucia said. "At this time we don’t have a superstar back there, but we have a good solid corps of six."
That's all you need unless someone gets hurt or ill.
"Probably. the one area [to clean up] was rush defense," Lucia said. "We gave up three goals on Saturday night. A little confusion, is it a three-on-two or a three-on-three? And who has got who? That can be overcome a little bit by just better communication and that is something we have stressed from Day 1. Things happen a little quicker in [Michigan State's] rink."
The Spartans' rink is NHL-size, meaning it is narrower than the Olympic-size sheet of ice at Mariucci Arena.
Gophers coach Don Lucia said after Saturday's tie the coaching staff complimented the players about what they have accomplished so far this season, rather than getting on them.
"Look at where we are sitting," he said on Monday during his weekly radio show on 1500ESPN. "We have got 11 wins. We are 8-2 in the league and we only have had three home games in the league. What we tried to do is take this weekend out of it and try to remind the guys about the big picture where we are."
The Gophers have a one-point lead over Minnesota Duluth a little more than a third of the way through their 28-game conference schedule.
"And we are fine [with] the way we played [in East Lansing, Mich.]," Lucia said, referring to a 4-3 loss to Michigan State and a 4-4 tie. "Our guys played their rear off on Saturday night. And really Friday, too, we outshot them almost two to one. Kent [goalie Kent Patterson] probably would like to have one or two of those [goals he gave up on Friday] back. He had been so good all year long. It is almost surprising when he let's one in he probably should have had.
"But we were right there. Both games were well-played, hard fought and it came right down to the end both nights."
DYNAMIC ONE-TWO SCORING PUNCH
Nick Bjugstad and Kyle Rau are setting quite a scoring pace for the Gophers.
Bjugstad, a 6-5 sophomore center, has 15 goals and 25 points already. He is tied for the national lead in goals and points.
Rau, his linemate and a 5-8 left winger, has 10 goals and 18 points. That's three more goals and four more points than any other freshmen playing Division I hockey.
"When you have 15 goals at Thanksgiving, [Nick] is on pace to have a terrific year," Lucia said. "And certainly Kyle Rau, with 10 already, that is pretty amazing as a freshman, too. They seem to work really well together. And that's one of the reasons we are winning games.
"We have some guys that are scoring on a pretty consistent basis. You have to defend, you have to goaltend, but you still have to get a timely goal. And, to me, that is the biggest difference this year, we are scoring more timely goals than we have had the past few years. And that has to continue."
Rau, by the way, has four game-winning goals, tying him for the national lead among all players in that category.
"We need everybody chipping in. We are at our best when we have that consistency throughout our lineup. Early on, it seemed like everybody was involved. Then for a while we are getting scoring off one line, which made it more difficult to win."
Bjugstad's line is the one that is scoring. Here is the breakdown:
First line, maroon: Rau-Bjugstad-Zach Budish ... top two goal-scorers, 29 goals, 29 assists -- 58 points
Second line, gold: Sam Warning-Erik Haula-Jake Hansen ... Haula started hot, has cooled, 16 goals, 26 assists -- 42 points
Third line, black: Nate Condon-Taylor Matson-Seth Ambroz ... Ambroz has struggled to score, 10-13 -- 23 points
Fourth line, blue: Tom Serratore-Travis Boyd-Nick Larson ... Serratore best hitter on team, 4-6 -- 10 points
"If we can get that scoring off all of our lines," Lucia said, "especially our top three, in a night in and night out basis that's when we are a dangerous team and that's when we are going to be at our best."
* Lucia said the Spartans scored three of their four goals on Saturday on rushes. "That is something we haven't been giving a lot of," he said. "A couple of them -- we just showed them on video -- a little confusion on who should be covering who. ... On their game-tying goal, we ended up with a defenseman getting outside the dots when he should have stayed in the middle. ... Again those are correctable mistakes."
RESULTS MIXED FROM LINE-UP CHANGES
Lucia had two freshman, second line left wing Sam Warning and third line right wing Seth Ambroz, sit and watch Saturday's game. "They hadn't scored in a while, they were getting a little bit frustrated," Lucia said. "They were still playing well and doing some good things."
But Lucia said he thought it would be good for them to watch a game. "Sometimes you see where the openings are, where you should go," he said. "It was good for both of them. [They went] back to the places they have been most of the year [Monday] in practice. That is where they need to be.
"That's our best line-up when Sam is playing with Erik [Haula] and [Jake] Hansen and when Seth is with [Nate] Condon and [Taylor] Matson. We [had] moved [Travis] Boyd up [from fourth to second line]. Part of it was good. He can make some plays. He got a lot of ice time and got tired a little bit. He is only 18 years old and needs to get stronger. And I also felt our blue line wasn't as strong as it had been over the previous month."
Lucia said it is not easy to find a group of three that work well together. He said he has several pairs that seem to fit. "And then you find out who you think will be the third guy to work well with that line," Lucia said.
He said he liked Haula and Hansen together as well as Condon and Matson. Both those pairs can play together killing penalties or on the power play, Lucia said.
"And now what is the best fit to go with them [on a line]?" Lucia asked. "We have to continue to grow some of the freshmen. ... And it's not about how are they playing in November, it is how we can get those guys playing in February and March."
Lucia said Minnesota State had eight players out with injuries at one time this season and only had 19 players available for one game in Denver.
"Until you can put your line-up on the ice, you don't know what kind of team you have," Lucia said. "And that has been the case with Minnesota State. They have a lot of veterans. They did turn over a couple of good defenseman last year."
He said the Mavericks, in a series at Duluth, had to use two forwards among their top six defensemen because of injuries.
"You pull seven or eight guys out of our lineup, and I guarantee you, our record would probably be reversed," Lucia said. "And that happened to us last year at times where we were down to 18 skaters in some of those games in November. And you are not the same team. So they are starting to get some guys back.
"As they get healthier, they are going to be a whole lot better."
The Gophers, atop the WCHA standings with an 8-2-0 record, face visiting Minnesota State Mankato, tied for 11th place at 2-7-1, this weekend. Should be an easy Gophers sweep?
Think again. The Mavericks are 5-1-0 against Minnesota since January 2009. A stunning reversal, considering the Gophers were 28-3-6 against MSU before then.
Why the turnaround? Exceptional defense is one reason. Minnesota State, in winning five of the last six games against the Gophers, has held Minnesota to two goals twice and one goal three times.
In those five wins, the Mavericks have outscored Minnesota 17-7, although their two victories last season were both by one goal. ... And two of the three other recent MSU wins were by two-goal margins only because of empty-netters.
A recap of the past six Gophers-Mavericks games:
2010, Dec. 3-4 at Verizon Wireless Center
Minnesota State 3, Gophers 2
Comments: Mavericks take leads of 1-0 and 2-1 in opening period and 3-1 in the seventh minute of the second period. ... Adam Mueller scores the game-winning goal and has an assist on the first goal. Mike Dorr, a former Gopher, has a power-play goal in between.
Gophers outshoot MSU 35-24 but Phil Cook has 33 saves and the visitors are zero-for-five on power play while Mavericks are one-for-two. ... Alex Kangas was in the nets for Minnesota
Minnesota State 2, Gophers 1
Comments: The Mavericks scored on a power play with 49 seconds left in second period to take a 1-0 lead, then got an unassisted goal in the middle of the third period. The Gophers scored 39 seconds later. All goal-scorers in this game are gone.
The Gophers outshot MSU 50-32, but Phil Cook stopped 49 shots, 22 in the third period. ... The Gophers were zero-for-six on the power play, the Mavericks one-for-six. ... Kent Patterson had 30 saves in losing his first road game of the season after a 4-0-0 start.
2009, home and home series, Dec. 4-5
Minnesota State 3, Gophers 1 at Mariucci
Comments: Jake Hansen gave the Gophers a 1-0 lead midway through the first period, but the Mavericks scored in the 16th minutes. It remained 1-1 until MSU scored at 12:25 of the third period and the visitors got an empty-net, insurance goal with 31 seconds left.
The Mavericks outshot the Gophers 42-26, including 18-4 in the opening period. It was their third win in a row in this rivalry after winning three total in their first 37 meetings. ... Kent Patterson had 39 saves for the Gophers, Austin Lee 25 for MSU.
The Mavericks were one-for-five on the power play, the Gophers zero-for-one. The Mavericks committed only one penalty, the Gophers five.
Gophers 6, Minnesota State 2 at Verizon Wireless
Comments: The Gophers took a 3-1 lead in the first period, scoring their first two goals 2:13 apart. They also had two goals 32 seconds apart in a three-goal third period. Nico Sacchetti and Taylor Matson each had a goal for the Gophers.
The Gophers outshot the Mavericks 32-22, including 16-6 in the opening period. Lee had 24 saves for the Mavericks. Alex Kangas was in the nets for the visitors. There were 19 penalties. The Gophers were zero-for-three on the power play, the Mavericks zero-for-four.
2009, home and home, Jan. 30-31
Minnesota State 6, Gophers 2 at Verizon Wireless
Comments: The Mavericks scored five goals on nine shots in the second period to break this game open. One goal was on a power play, one short-handed. Mike Louwerse, a senior on MSU this season, had a goal and two assists. This was the Mavericks' first victory over the Gophers by more than one goal in their all-time series.
Kent Patterson played the third period, in relief of Alex Kangas, and stopped all five shots he faced.
Minnesota State 3, Gophers 1 at Mariucci
Comments: This victory completed the Mavericks' first sweep ever of the Gophers. The Mavericks scored two first- period goals and added an empty-netter in the last minute.
Minnesota State Mankato had a rough weekend, similar to the Gophers' -- except the Mavericks played at home.
The Mavericks lost by one goal on Friday to Alaska Anchorage and tied the Seawolves on Saturday.
To get a 5-5 tie, Minnesota State, which plays the Gophers at Mariucci Arena this coming weekend, had to rally from four goals down.
UAA led 2-1 after one period, then opened a 5-1 lead on goals by Jordan Kwas, Mickey Spencer and Curtis Leinweber, according to a Minnesota State news release. After the fifth goal, Minnesota State replaced starting goalie Phil Cook -- who stopped only two of seven shots -- and started scoring goals..
Eriah Hayes and freshman J.P. Lafontaine scored power-play goals at 11:30 and 13:51 to cut the Seawolves' lead to 5-3. Hayes has four goals and four assists in a six-game points streak/
Lafontaine's second goal of the game -- and seventh of the season -- came on another power play at 2:15 of the third period. Senior defenseman Joe Schiller's shot from the point beat UAA goalie Rob Gunderson at 10:25 to tie the score. It was Schiller's first goal of the season.
The overtime was scoreless.
The Mavericks had a season-high 46 shots on goal.
Freshman goalie Evan Karambelas, who replaced Cook midway through the second period, stopped all six shots he faced in his first college game.
Now 3-10-1 overall, 2-7-1 WCHA, Minnesota State continues WCHA action with a road series at the University of Minnesota on Friday and Saturday. Alaska Anchorage is now 5-7-2 overall, 2-7-1 WCHA.
UAA WINS SEESAW GAME
On Friday, Hayes gave Minnesota State a 1-0 lead in the first minute but UAA won 5-4. Jordan Kwas' power-play goal for the Seawolves with 1:40 left in the opening period tied the score at 1-1.
The score was 3-3 after two periods. Senior forward Justin Jokinen of the Mavericks scored a short-handed goal and an unassisted goal. In between, the Seawolves got goals from Brett Cameron on a breakaway and defenseman Curtis Leinweber on a give-and-go.
Andrew Pettit put the Seawolves ahead 4-3 early in the second period after a Minnesota State turnover. Zach Lehrke's second goal midway through the period tied the score again at 4-4. UAA countered with Scott Allen's rebound goal at 14:25, which was the game-winner.
The Mavericks outshot the Seawolves 27-24 in the game but went zero-for-three on power-play chances.
Alaska Anchorage converted on two of three chances with a man advantage.
MAVERICKS SWEPT GOPHERS LAST SEASON
Minnesota State beat the Gophers 3-2 and 2-1 on Dec. 3 and 4 in Mankato last season. And, going back two more season, the Mavericks have won five of the past six meetings.
The Mavericks' 2-1 win a year ago was a goaltending duel. Cook stopped 49 of 50 shots; Kent Patterson made 30 saves for the Gophers.
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