Doug McLeod Gophers Insider: Back to the Big Ten

The Matchup

Minnesota Golden Gophers (6-7-4, 3-2-3 Big Ten) vs. No. 9 Penn State Nittany Lions (11-5-2, 3-4-1-1 Big Ten)

3M Arena at Mariucci, Minneapolis, Friday/Saturday nights

More Gophers coverage

Broadcast

7 p.m. Saturday (Fox Sports North)

Recent history

Minnesota lurched into the Christmas break with only two wins in a seven-game span. That included a 3-2 loss to Ferris State, which is ranked 55th out of 60 Division I teams in the PairWise. (More on that set of nebulous numbers later.)

Penn State is coming off a 4-4 tie against Princeton and a 9-1 thumping of Notre Dame. Prior to that, though, Nittany Nation was in an unusual drought: four games without a win (0-3-1), going back to Thanksgiving weekend. This is pretty much the same team that ripped off six straight wins to begin the season.

Players to watch

The Gophers’ received a nice bump from SCOTT REEDY, whose first career hat trick powered them to the 5-2 win over Ferris State on Dec. 28.

Still, one line has carried the mail scoring-wise more than any other. The so-called GPS Line (BRENT GATES JR.-REM PITLICK-TYLER SHEEHY) piled on points in eight straight games since head coach BOB MOTZKO put it together in late November.

SCOTT WALKER is back. He was a late cut by coach MIKE HASTINGS from the U.S. National Junior Team prior to the championships in British Columbia.

Goalies stay strong

MAT ROBSON seems to have nailed down the starting goaltender slot, and he wants a piece of Penn State. While he has never beaten the Nittany Lions coming into this weekend (0-3-0), he posted a career-high 55 save performance at Pegula Arena last Feb. 24.

Meanwhile, what of ERIC SCHIERHORN? The defending Big Ten Goalie of the Year continues to ride the pine most nights while Robson plays his hot hand. Schierhorn is still one shutout away from tying the Gophers’ all-time career mark.

Speaking of the PairWise

Stats folks are finally coming into the part of the season where it begins to mean something. While some of what the PairWise measures – and how – remains as mysterious as how your credit score is concocted, it can be instructive.

For example:

  • While St. Cloud State continues to be the nation’s No. 1 team on both national polls, the Huskies are No. 2 in the Pairwise, due to UMass having a slightly higher RPI (Ratings Power Index) number.
  • Minnesota is ranked 24th out of 60 Division I teams.
  • Penn State is 9th, sandwiched between No. 10 Arizona State and No. 8 Bowling Green

Happily, it’s still a number of weeks until the PairWise truly matters and the NCAA playoffs begin.

Broadcast crew
Ben Clymer, Katie Emmer and I will call Saturday’s game on Fox Sports North. We’ve saved you the best seat in the house!

DOUG McLEOD is the five-time Emmy Award-winning play-by-play announcer for Fox Sports and a longtime voice of Division I and NHL hockey. This is his 22nd season calling Golden Gopher hockey games.