Who: Minnesota at #9 Michigan
Where: Yost Ice Arena
When: Friday, 7:05pm - Saturday, 8:35pm
The Gophers head to Yost with a 6-7-0 record fresh off their Big Ten opener that featured two overtime winners over Ohio State.
That's not a terrible record considering the amount of attrition Minnesota dealt with in the offseason. Their three leading scorers from a year ago have departed, as well as two other senior forwards who each recorded twelve goals. Top pairing defensemen Brady Skjei and Mike Reilly departed a year early as did three year starter Adam Wilcox.
At forward Leon Bristedt has stepped up to begin his sophomore year and leads the team in both goals and points with eight and fourteen. Freshman Tyler Sheehy is second on the team with six goals and Hudson Fasching and Justin Kloos continue to load up the stat sheet as they have done their entire careers.
The Gophers look a lot like the Wolverines offensively. They have quick, skilled forwards who want to get out in space and make a team defend them in transition.
Earlier in the year we saw Boston University attack Michigan's forecheck by dragging a forward across the far blueline to open up a big gap in the neutral zone. The Gophers used the same gameplan at Yost a year ago, expect to see it again.
The Gopher blueline has talent. They also have big shoes to fill following the departures of Mike Reilly and Brady Skjei. Making up the top four are Jack Glover and Nick Seeler, followed by Michael Brodzinski and Jake Bischoff who pair together to give the Gophers the highest upside offensively. Steven Johnson and Ryan Collins are the third pair.
In net freshman Eric Schierhorn has started thirteen games with pretty good results. The 2014 USHL Goaltender of the Year enters the series with a .915 SV% and a 2.60 goals against. He has two shutouts this year and has played really well to keep his team in games, but the Gopher blueline hasn't done a great job clearing the net in front of him this year and their penalty kill has allowed 11 power play goals.
What To Watch For: Michigan
The Michigan forwards have to stay away from the boards in transition. The Gopher defensemen skate well and have had success in the past game planning for a Michigan team that likes to drive wide on the rush. They'll let the Wolverines attack the outside and use the boards as an extra defender. The Wolverines have to try and attack the middle of the ice and get bodies to the net.
Steve Racine isn't going to play this weekend. While Zach Nagelvoort didn't have a good weekend at all against Wisconsin, I don't expect Red to give Chad Catt his first start against this Minnesota team unless Nagelvoort struggles on Friday night.
Special teams will play a big role in the outcome of this series. The Wolverine power play will face a Gopher penalty kill that is not playing well right now, but the Wolverine penalty kill has to fight off a Gopher power play that ranks 7th in the country a week after being shredded by Wisconsin.
Mistakes are starting to pile up for Michigan's blueline. Out of the three pairings Zach Werenski and Joe Cecconi have been their best. Cutler Martin has had a slow start to the year playing with Boka and Nolan De Jong has been a turnover machine playing with Downing. There isn't a pairing that I trust right now to put on the ice and ask for a turnover free shift.
There's been talk the entire year about how it's coming together. Well, it's time to put up. If they come out and look anything like they did against Wisconsin the Gophers will easily hang half a dozen goals on them.