First-place Gophers host Colorado College

First-place Gophers host Colorado College

Published Jan. 20, 2012 4:00 a.m. ET

The Minnesota Gophers men's hockey team was at a crossroads last Saturday in Grand Forks, N.D.. After dropping a 2-1 game on Friday night, the Gophers had fallen from first place in the WCHA for the first time all season.

Minnesota responded, however, by building a 4-0 lead early in the second period and holding on for a 6-2 triumph over UND.

The Gophers are now 16-8-1 on the season, with 7 of those 8 losses coming by just one goal. Meanwhile, Minnesota-Duluth outplayed Nebraska-Omaha but lost on Saturday, 3-1. The Gophers and Bulldogs are now tied at the top of the WCHA with 24 points, with Colorado College next in third place, just four points behind.

Minnesota head coach Don Lucia liked the way his team responded last Saturday, noting: "I'm very proud of the way our team handled the pressure on Saturday night. Hopefully this game will be a nice stepping-off point for second half success."

Minnesota will host Colorado College this weekend at Mariucci Arena, with a 7 p.m. start on Friday night and a special 5 p.m. start for Hockey Day Minnesota on Saturday.

Dating back to 1947, Minnesota and Colorado College have met 251 times. The Golden Gophers have a 160-84-7 all-time series edge, with a 96-24-2 home ledger. Dating back to the beginning of the 2005 calendar year, eight of the last nine regular-season series Minnesota has played against the Tigers have resulted in sweeps. The Gophers swept five of those series.

The Tigers are led by the Schwartz brothers, Rylan and Jaden. Rylan (18g-9a), a junior, has 27 points in 21 games while sophomore Jaden (7g-17a) has 24 points in 16 games after missing time to captain Team Canada to a bronze medal at the World Junior Championships.

Between the pipes, junior Joe Howe and second-year netminder Josh Thorimbert have split time. Thorimbert has been impressive, racking up an 8-3-3 record with a
2.33 goals-against average and a .919 save percentage. Howe, of Plymouth, Minn., is 5-5-1 with a 3.51 goals-against average.

Two of the top three offenses in the nation will meet this weekend when Colorado College comes to Mariucci Arena. The Gophers are second in the nation, averaging 4.0 goals-per-game, while the Tigers are third with a 3.68 goals-per-game average.

This weekend’s games will also feature two of the top three individual goal-scorers in the nation. Minnesota sophomore Nick Bjugstad is second in the nation with 19 goals in 23 games, while Colorado College's Rylan Schwartz is third with 18 goals.

Besides Bjugstad, the Gophers are led offensively by sophomore defenseman Nate Schmidt, who has 2 goals and 24 assists for 26 points -- which places him second in the country in points by a defenseman. Schmidt is also second in the country with a +19 plus/minus rating.

Between the pipes for Minnesota will be Ken Patterson, who has played every minute in net for the Gophers this season. Patterson is first in the nation with six shutouts and has a .918 save percentage and a 2.12 goals-against average.

On the injury front, Minnesota forward Nick Larson broke his wrist in last Saturday’s game at North Dakota. The senior had surgery on Tuesday and there is no timetable for his return. Larson has played in 21 games this year and has four points(3g-1a).

Fox Sports North will have all the action covered this weekend, starting Friday night with Gophers Live presented by Century Link, starting at 6:30 p.m.