Don Lucia had a chance to spend a period Friday scouting Saturday’s Mariucci Classic championship opponent, Harvard. It’s safe to see he came away impressed with the No. 7-ranked Crimson, which defeated Ferris State 7-3 with goals by seven different players.
“(Harvard is) really good. I think that’s a game that our fans will really enjoy. They like creative hockey and they like plays being made,” Lucia said Friday night.
Minnesota (8-8-0, 3-1-0-0 Big Ten) has already faced two of the top-four scoring offenses in the country in St. Cloud State and Michigan. While the Crimson is seventh, averaging 3.82 goals per game, both Hudson Fasching and Lucia made comparisons to the Wolverines offense that scored eight goals on the Gophers last month.
“They are a veteran team when you look at the top couple lines with three juniors and three seniors,” Lucia said about Harvard’s offense, which is led by senior Jimmy Vesey. “They had a great team run last year. A lot of people thought they would be a Frozen Four team a year ago. I was really impressed. Their group of forwards reminds me of Michigan’s forwards and is probably the best team we’ve played this year.”
Defensively, sophomore goaltender Merrick Madsen has a NCAA-leading .963 save percentage and four shutouts in eight games.
Harvard is icing the same lineup tonight as Friday, however, the team is without freshman defenseman Ryan Donato, who is playing in the World Juniors tournament in Finland.
Minnesota advanced by defeating Connecticut 3-2 Friday. Fasching scored his team-leading ninth goal off of a pass by Tommy Novak, who has a seven game point streak, a shift after the Huskies had tied the game in the third period. The Gophers out-shot Connecticut 38-17 and were able to control play for long stretches of the game.
A Minnesota win tonight would be the first Mariucci Classic championship by the host school since 2012. Doing so against a top-ten opponent like Harvard would show the team can play with anyone, Lucia said Friday.
It would also help boost Minnesota’s resume before heading back to Big Ten play. The Gophers currently sit 16th in the Pairwise rankings that determine the NCAA Tournament at-large bids. (Harvard is presently fifth and the second-highest ranked Minnesota has faced this season after St. Cloud State.) It is one of three Big Ten teams (Michigan and next week’s opponent Penn State being the others) which are in the top-16.
The Gophers made two changes from Friday’s victory. Both are on the fourth line. Ryan Norman and Ryan Reilly replace Darian Romanko and Jack Ramsey, respectively.
Connor Reilly – Justin Kloos – Tyler Sheehy
Leon Bristedt – Tommy Novak – Hudson Fasching
Brent Gates Jr. - Vinni Lettieri – Taylor Cammarata
A.J. Michaelson – Ryan Norman – Ryan Reilly
Nick Seeler – Jack Glover
Jake Bischoff – Michael Brodzinski
Steve Johnson – Ryan Collins
Tonight’s game begins at 7:00 p.m. CT and is not broadcast on television. You can listen on the radio locally on 1500 ESPN or stream it online through BTN Plus.