A rolling start
The Gophers steamrolled Michigan State last weekend in the lid-lifter series to the new season. Minnesota was ranked No. 1 in the country going in, and if there were any doubters, they don’t wear Spartans green and white.
The true strength of Minnesota’s team this year is obviously not only talent but depth. The Gophers regularly rolled through four lines and six defensemen all weekend. This not only gave everyone valuable early-season minutes but, because legs were fresh, enabled the Gophers to mount a forecheck that was nothing less than ferocious at times.
Notable during that series:
• Coach Don Lucia was able to play a lot of guys – and most received significant ice time, even on special teams.
• Minnesota has so many quality defensemen who are ready to play that one or two were slotted as fourth-line forwards.
• Two goalies – Mike Shibrowski and Adam Wilcox -- got full-game work, and both did well, although neither saw many pucks
• Nick Bjugstad is clearly on track for a season of superlatives.
No lone rangers: The Minnesota forwards, and the defense when needed, supported the puck well in both games. Almost never was a player left alone to battle defenders in either zone. Especially in the attacking end, there were always two and often three in support of the puck carrier or corner digger. Yet the Gophers, who created a fistful of odd-man rushes throughout the weekend, never got burned the other way. This is a matter that calls for some caution, though, because too many players and too much time spent grinding for the puck can produce disaster if the other guys work just as hard or get a lucky bounce.
Voices in the crowd: Longtime NHL great Chris Chelios, whose son Jake Chelios plays for the Spartans, on the difference between Michigan State’s players and Minnesota’s: “It’s like boys playing against men.”
A stat that matters: Big (6-3, 205) junior defenseman Mark Alt posted strong plus/minus numbers. The former Cretin-Derham Hall standout led the team with a plus-4 rating in Friday’s game and was plus-2 Saturday.
View from the TV booth: Freshman Goalie Adam Wilcox, a former South St. Paul Packer, is an honest-to-goodness puck-handling goaltender of a type rarely seen at Minnesota in recent years. Though it’s way too early to make comparisons, the name Rob Stauber, who only won a Hobey Baker Award, comes to mind. Whether Wilcox will be the anointed starter is up for grabs, however, because junior Mike Shibrowski played well in a more stay-up-and-stay-home style.
Did you see? Okay, you couldn’t miss it because with all the Gopher goals, we put it onscreen a lot: FOX Sports North is adding an on-demand instant replay tool. A Quick Response (QR) code target pops on to the screen following goals and at some other times. Scan it with your smart phone or tablet and you can grab another look at goals, other highlights and additional material. Pretty cool. Funny, I didn’t have a chance to try it.
Check back throughout each week for insider information, updates and observations throughout the Gophers hockey season.