This isn't a preview of this weekend's series. Instead, it's just a semi-organized collection of my thoughts about this year's Minnesota Golden Gophers. The Gophers are the easiest team in college hockey to research. There is typically more written about them in Internet venues than any other Division I team.
When the Seawolves face a Mercyhurst, RPI or Robert Morris I've got to do a bit of digging. I've got to infer what I can from past boxscores and current rosters. I've got to hope there is some blogger somewhere who knows what he/she is talking about. But when it comes to the Gophers, that problem doesn't exist. The plethora of published opinion presents only one limited challenge.
You've just got to separate the wheat from the chaff; the rubes from the knowledgeable. That effort isn't too difficult in any season. Here's some examples so you can tell one from the other:Rubes say stuff like:
"If it were not for an unassisted tally by Boston University junior forward Joe Pereira with less than three minutes left in regulation, the top three teams in the nation would have fallen victim to major upsets."
"Outscored 13-3, shutout three times, and currently 0-3-1 - at what point does "it's early" become "this team is mediocre at best"?"
"It depends on what happens next weekend. If they struggle against UAA then we can throw in the towel."
"They hardly lost anyone after last season. Shouldn't this mean that MN would be ready to start the season and not look this putrid?"
"As for the the weekend against the seawolves... I'm not too optimistic. I think we're gonna dick around a lot like we have been and I'll be happy to get a win. More likely scenario is we tie twice to a mediocre team."
"I'm predicting sweep. I like what I heard from the coach this week, the game is on big ice, and UAA has only two players who can skate with the entire Gopher squad."
"I also believe there will be a parade of penalties as UAA does a lot of hooking and holding. The rest are big and slow with bookend sieves."
The knowledgeable say stuff like:
"While the Gophers have a heck of a lot of work to do, for the most part its all very correctable stuff. Its all fundamentals."
"If there is one thing I have learned in my years of watching college hockey, it is that the way a team looks at the start of the year is no indication of the way they will look at the end of the year."
"Scoring looks like it will be a challenge, but the D and goaltending should be good, so I don't think they need to be a high-scoring team to do well. While no one appears to be a big goal scorer, look top to bottom at the players on this team and there were a lot of points these players generated in their past."
So I think it's apparent that the rubes outnumber the knowledgeable; note here that the first "rube" comment above was the lead for USCHO's story covering the weekend. BU beating Michigan, Miami losing once to Michigan State and UND losing one to UAA are by no measure "devasting" events."I anticipate a hard fought series with UAA."
The rube/knowledgeable proportion probably holds true for every base of hockey fans at every level (excepting Seawolves fans of course). So the bigger point here (other than outing rubes) is that even through the fog of massive hand wringing and general bovine excrement that I think I've gotten a good idea about this year's Gopher squad. I've seen them play; I've read most of the critiques and so ... here's my analysis.
The Gophers haven't come together as a team. I've always said that managing personalities of all the NHL draft picks is Don Lucia's biggest problem in any year. In some ways, that challenge is perhaps less for him this season. The "primadonna" factor isn't what it's been in the past. They've played two difficult teams so far. We already know that UND's biggest strength is their ability to draw on their emotions and play at a high level. They did exactly that to Minnesota.
Denver on the other hand was motivated to play their best all-around games of the year after they hadn't exactly come out of the gate looking like the best college hockey team ever put together. So, it's meaningless that the Gophers are 0-3-1. Entirely. Judging a team by their record and only looking at W's is superficial. Rubes do that. People that know the game, look deeper into situations to see the truth.
The truth here is that the Gophers are a talented team. They've been playing decently in their own end. They just haven't mustered the offensive troops in the proper formations. It takes a few games for any coach to see who works together well offensively. Practice can give him an idea but until there are actual game situations challenging players one can't really know for sure if there is any chemistry between linemates.
Much has been made of the Gopher's lack of power play production. See above. Allow another example here. UAA's power play was the first to score on UND this season. Prior to scoring Saturday night the Seawolves had been less than sparkling on the PP. But Coach Shyiak made a key change in the power play setup that probably helped it click. So, there's every reason to expect that Coach Lucia can make whatever necessary adaptations to help his team's power play to succeed.
My last point here is that inconsistency early in the hockey season is a wide-spread phenomenon. The effort to teach young players exactly what level of play they need to acheive doesn't happen overnight. Look to your own life for an example. Didn't the best lessons you learned come via your failures? Same thing with hockey players. A baby has to learn to pick his foot up when there's a rock in his path. Tripping on the rock and getting a skinned knee brings that home.
The Seawolves will be facing a dangerous, hungry and talented Gopher team this weekend. Don't begin to allow yourself to think that the Gopher's record or statistics tell a different story. Don't be a rube.