Naughty or nice. The Gophers have four opportunities to really set themselves up for the balance of the season in the series against The Team Formerly Known As Nebraska-Omaha and at Colorado College the next two weekends. These are classic “positioning” games and they’re critical with #1 Boston College looming ahead in the Mariucci Classic December 30.
UN-O – we’re supposed to call it simply Omaha now in a rebranding attempt – has quietly become one of the country’s hottest teams. The Mavericks have won six straight and are riding balanced scoring, an improving defense and the hot hand of senior goalie John Faulkner. The Mavs also boast the number two offense and defense in the WCHA. They’re ranked No. 13 on one national poll, 14 on the other.
Omaha – does that sound right? – hasn’t lost a game in November. After losing to Bemidji State in late October, the Mavs beat Michigan Tech and Minnesota-Duluth and last weekend, polished off Alabama-Huntsville by a combined 11-2 score (6-0 Saturday).
Tall tower: One of the things that sets fourth-year coach Dean Blais’ club apart is the towering figure of junior defenseman Andrej Sustr. At 6-8, Sustr (pronounced SHOO-ster), who is from the Czech Republic, is the tallest player in Division I hockey. He’s also an alternate captain and is tied for fourth in team scoring. And you thought Scott Bjugstad, who’s a mere 6-6, had a long reach.
Almost there: Gopher players and coaches tell me they like how things are evening out at this point in the season – meaning how scoring is being aided by improved decision-making by the young defense – and that the team is mostly in fine-tuning mode on a week-by-week basis. That’s obvious on the ice. The two wins at Vermont last weekend were both solid efforts: a productive forecheck coupled with a strong yet mobile defense.
And always at the back, there’s the scintillating play of freshman goalie Adam Wilcox. Already among the nation’s elite collegiate netminders, Wilcox sparkles every night. My broadcast partner, Kevin Gorg, calls him “the number one story of the year.” Hard to argue with Kevin anyway, especially since he’s a goalie himself. And I agree with him.
Gopher women rock: The best just keeps getting better. The Minnesota women’s team laces ’em up against Wisconsin this weekend (2:00 p.m. Saturday and Sunday) as the Border Battle continues.
What a team this is: fast, fluid and loaded with scoring. Minnesota just set a new NCAA record with its 15th consecutive road win. The 16-0 Gophers continue to add to their NCAA record for consecutive wins, which is now at 24 going back to last season.
Ranked No. 1 all season, Minnesota has mostly been backstopped by former Finland National player Noora Raty. Last weekend at New Hampshire, though, it was freshman Amanda Laveille’s turn. She posted her first career shutout on 16 saves.
Cheap seats: Saturday’s tilt against the Badgers will include an attempt to break the Ridder Arena attendance record. How? One dollar seats! Can’t beat the price/performance combination of THAT.
Lock it in Friday and Saturday nights as we bring you the Gophers-Omaha series from Mariucci Arena on Fox Sports North – 7:00 each night, 6:30 for Gophers Live.