Doug McLeod Blog: It feels like a season opener

Published Nov. 1, 2018 12:11 p.m. ET

Yes, the No. 8/10 Golden Gophers hockey team has entered the results of three regular-season games in the books -- a win, loss and tie -- but because of this year’s screwy early-season schedule it hasn’t really felt like the season has properly begun. Following a split against NCAA champion Minnesota Duluth, the Hall of Fame Game debacle against North Dakota and a pair of exhibition games the Gophers open a home-and-home series against Minnesota State Mankato on Friday at 3M Arena at Mariucci (7 p.m., FOX Sports North Plus). Yes, it’s now the fourth week of the 2018-19 season.

If you’re feeling as though the season has just dawdled up to the starting line, you’re not alone. First-year head coach Bob Motzko agrees. “Actually,” Motzko said, “we’ve played two games: the home-and-home against Minnesota Duluth. The North Dakota thing in Vegas can barely be called a game. We were terrible.”

Last Saturday’s 3-1 loss to the Fighting Hawks in the Hall of Fame Game may have given the players a nice trip to Sin City but it didn’t help Motzko’s outlook when the Gophers took a rash of bad penalties and only managed to score once, a 5-on-3 power-play goal in the first period by Brent Gates Jr. After that, UM gave up three straight and the issue wasn’t in doubt.

Penalties kill.  An old hockey maxim says it’s hard to score from the penalty box. Minnesota has managed only six goals in the first three games that actually count and a big reason for the drought is that the Gophers have been penalized 25 times for a total of 80 minutes. That’s over a period per game in which they’re short-handed.

“A lot of dumb penalties,” Motzko said. “We can talk about it but I told the players that if it continues, they’re letting me into their world. And that’s happened. I’m in their world now”.

Scouting the Mavericks. Minnesota State, on an early-season roll (5-1-0), is ranked No. 4 in the nation. The Mavs wiped out WCHA foe Alaska (Fairbanks) in Mankato last weekend, 4-0 and 3-1, allowing only six shots on goal in Friday’s tilt. That’s the fewest in MSU’s Division I history. Senior goalie Mathias Israelsson, coming off three seasons as a Northern Michigan Wildcat, whitewashed the Nanooks on Friday then posted a 3-1 win Saturday.

Deep in all positions, head coach Mike Hastings has only three other seniors on a power-laden young club. One of them, tri-captain Max Coatta (Minnetonka), was WCHA Offensive Player of the Week two weeks ago following a four-goal, five-point weekend at North Dakota.

Junior Parker Tuomie paced the Mavs against Alaska with a five-point weekend.

Minnesota State is looking to build on a terrific 2017-18 campaign that included a WCHA regular season title and an NCAA tournament loss to eventual champ Minnesota Duluth.

For the Gophers, it’s finally time to play hockey after the strangest season-opening schedule most of us can remember.

Join Ben Clymer, Katie Emmer and me for Friday night’s broadcast, beginning at 7 p.m. on FOX Sports North Plus.

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 Gophers hockey games.