It certainly hasn’t been a memorable two and a half years for Minnesota, who have missed the last two NCAA tournaments. Even though Minnesota hasn’t rebounded to its historically high level of play, it seems they are being a bit overlooked in the national picture.
Minnesota clocked in at 20 in the latest edition of the INCH power rankings, but failed to garner even one vote in the USA Today poll. Minnesota’s overall record isn’t inspiring – they sit at just 13-12-5 – but they have played a pretty tough schedule. Not only the traditional rigors that come from playing in the WCHA, but they also faced Michigan in the college hockey showcase (and beat them), narrowly lost to Union in the Dodge Holiday Classic, and faced a Ferris State team in the same tournament that got off to a decent start and now sits mid pack in the CCHA.
Minnesota is currently 6th in the WCHA and has the inside track on the final home ice playoff spot as they hold a one point margin on Colorado College and a two point margin over Alaska-Anchorage. The Gophers also have two games in hand over the Seawolves as UAA plays their final regular season conference series this weekend before facing cross-state rival Alaska
Ehere the Gophers have the edge over their near competitors is their schedule. They face Michigan Tech this weekend and then finish with Bemidji State. Four points seem a certainty from the Huskies as they have only 4 wins all season, though they got one from Denver last weekend. CC has to play Duluth and Wisconsin so it is possible that the Bemidji series will be a moot point, but just in case the Gophers appear to have the edge over the Beavers everywhere except in net anyways.
Speaking of, the key to Minnesota’s success has been the play of goalie Kent Patterson. Patterson is 4th in the WCHA in save percentage, and this is despite having to play behind some shaky Gopher defensemen. The Gophers don’t have much scoring punch, they are 7th in the WCHA, but they have a solid group of guys who have some talent, if not getting the type of production they have in the past. Jay Barriball has battled lower body injuries lately, but is tied for the team lead with 12 goals. Freshmen Nick Bjugstad and Erik Haula have played much better as of late, and the Gophers are getting a lot of production from Senior Jacob Cepis. Cepis isn’t exactly the most popular player in the country given his penchant for embellishing, but there is no arguing he has been a productive player for the Gophers.
Sitting 18th in the pairwise, the Gophers have a chance to grab a home ice playoff series and advance to the Final Five, where a win or two could put them into the NCAA tournament, something I didn’t think possible at the start of the season.