If someone watched the Gophers and UMD all four games last season, it would be hard to imagine their hockey seasons ended so differently.
The U lost in the first round of the WCHA playoffs, the Bulldogs were NCAA champions. But against each other they were 1-1-2. The Gophers scored 11 goals, UMD 12.
So can the Gophers come in and take a few points at Amsoil Arena this weekend? Sure they can. Coach Don Lucia would probably be happy with a split.
Here are three keys for the Gophers:
1. Get off to a good start. Last season in the Gophers' first WCHA series, Nebraska Omaha came to Mariucci and blitzed them. UNO scored the first three or four goals each game in winning 5-4 and 4-2. The Gophers need to stay close or the sellout crowd will go crazy and energize the Bulldogs even more than they will be.
2. Give goalie Kent Patterson a chance. UMD will get its shots on net, but the defensmen have to clear the front of the net and let Patterson see the pucks. And not led UMD players set up near the net for rebounds. Patterson was sensational in three of the four games against UMD, holding the 'Dogs to two goals in each of them despite making 36 to 41 saves. The fourth game got out of hand. Mike Connolly scored five goals and UMD won 6-4. Connolly has moved on to pro hockey, but the 'Dogs have nine of the 12 forwards back who played in the NCAA title game. Enough said. ... P.S. Patterson had back-to-back shutouts against Sacred Heart last weekend, the first and second of his career.
3. Get the power play going. The Gophers were three for 14 on the man-advantage versus Sacred Heart. That's not good enough. A power-play goal or two could provide the separation goals that Lucia always talks about. The Gophers have some big bodies like Zach Budish, Seth Ambroz and Jake Hansen who can park themselves in front of the net for deflections and tips.