Welcome back for another rendition of the NCAA Weekly Match-Up!
This is the first full week of college hockey action, as there are many great games to choose from. As I am scrolling through all the options, I realized I couldn’t possibly pass up on a battle between two Minnesota squads. The State of Hockey will be divided this weekend as Minnesota University takes on Minnesota-Duluth in the Ice Breaker Tournament. It is the only time these two teams will face off this season (unless we have the fortunate opportunity to see them meet up in the NCAA Tournament), so how will these two powerhouse programs fare against one another?
Minnesota Golden Gophers v. Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs
Friday, October 6th
7:37 PM ET
The Minnesota Golden Gophers are hoping to make some noise right out of the gate in the 2017-2018 NCAA season, and winning an Ice Breaker Tournament Trophy wouldn’t be a bad way to start things out. For those uncommon with college hockey, several schools host invitational tournaments such as this. Although they do not have a significant impact on a team’s overall season, it is a privilege to play in these tournaments, as well as a boost in confidence for the few that get to take home some hardware.
Minnesota was tabbed as the pre-season favorites of the Big Ten Hockey Conference. There is a lot of pressure on this team, but they have been known to handle high expectations. A season opening bout with in-state rival Minnesota-Duluth will surely be an early measuring stick. Not to say their whole season will ride on this game, but it’s an opportunity for them to test their team early.
Minnesota will need to replace a top scorer, as Justin Kloos has graduated and moved on to the AHL. He had a stat line of 18-25-43, which will need to be made up by younger forwards. Fortunately, they do return starting goaltender Eric Schierhorn, who appeared in 38 games for a 2.61 goals against average and 0.908 save percentage. If he performs strongly and gets some support from the defensive corps, Minnesota’s end of the ice will be well-cared for tonight and for the rest of the season.
Minnesota-Duluth might well be the most anxious team to take the ice this season. They were left with a bad taste in their mouth when they made a great run in the 2017 NCAA Tournament, only to lose by one goal to Denver, a fellow conference opponent. They hoisted the championship trophy back in 2011, but these are new, fresh players that wanted to bring one home for their team. For the Bulldogs, this season will be all about putting in the hard work and hopefully making it back to take another shot at a title.
Here is the thing about NCAA Hockey; teams at this level face arguably the most adversity, even when compared to professional teams. Imagine your team coming up just short of a championship and then turning the page to the next season and seeing them try it again, but without ten players that helped them get there. Suren there is turnover in all leagues, but replacing ten players is nearly impossible. This is the reality for Minnesota-Duluth as they head into this season. Seven seniors, including their Captain and team MVP, graduated from the program. These players combined for 60 goals and over 150 points overall. This is critical offense, as well as important leadership, that they will need to replace within. Three players, Neal Pionk, Adam Johnson, and Hunter Miska, departed from the program early as they signed with professional clubs. This is simply an unfortunate reality for NCAA teams. Overall, they lost their leading scorer, four core defensemen, and their starting goaltender in one clean sweep. I’m not counting out Minnesota-Duluth, but that is one massive hill to climb.
It will be interesting to watch both teams tonight, as they face their first serious competition of the season (with no disrespect intended towards Alberta… Wait a minute… did I forget to mention something kind of important… That reminds me – Alberta!) Although it was exhibition play, Minnesota-Duluth lost their game against Alberta by a score of 4-3. If you are someone who likes to compare games against common opponents, Minnesota skated by the same team with a 6-2 result. Again, you have to take exhibition games with a grain of salt, but this could also be an indicator of how this game will go. Who will win this one and advance to the tournament finals? Well, we will find out tonight. Best of luck to all teams involved in the Ice Breaker Tournament!
Players to Watch:
Minnesota – Senior Forward, Leon Bristedt; Freshman Forward, Casey Mittelstadt (Drafted by the Buffalo Sabres); Junior Goalie, Eric Schierhorn
Minnesota-Duluth – Sophomore Forward, Riley Tufte (Drafted by the Dallas Stars); Sophomore Defense, Jarod Hilderman; Sophomore Goalie, Hunter Shepard