What happened last weekend?
The Huskies surrendered a goal just 41 seconds into Thursday night’s season opener in Sault Ste. Marie before notching the next two goals when sophomore winger Blake Pietila scored in the second period and junior center Dennis Rix scored a power play goal early in the third. Freshman goaltender Pheonix Copley surrendered the game’s next three goals in a 4–2 loss to the Lake Superior State Lakers.
Saturday night, while celebrating the school’s first national championship team, the Huskies sent a message to the NCAA with three first period goals. The Huskies then scored four more in the second and one more in the third en route to an 8–4 win. Junior winger Milos Gordic notched a pair of goals and three points. Sophomore center Tanner Kero netted one goal and two assists. Senior goaltender Kevin Genoe made 22 stops in the victory.
The No. 1 Minnesota Golden Gophers got four assists from winger Zach Budish and three points from four other forwards as they outscored the Michigan State Spartans 5–1 on Friday and 7–1 on Saturday. Junior Michael Shibrowski and freshman Adam Wilcox split duties in net.
What were the positives the Huskies learned about themselves?
The depth the Huskies have up front is evident on the strength of four-point weekends from Gordic and Kero. It took Rix seven games to score a goal last season and he already has two this season.
“He’s just shooting the puck,” said head coach Mel Pearson. “Dennis was a scorer in junior hockey. He has a history of scoring. I expect big things from him.”
The Huskies’ highly-touted freshman class has come into the season ready to perform from the opening faceoff. Wingers Alex Petan and Malcolm Gould along with center Jujhar Khaira all played significant roles in Saturday’s victory. Pearson is really happy with the compete level of all three of them.
“I think, obviously, they are ready to play,” said Pearson. “They are all eager to learn. They are like sponges. The nice thing is, they have talent. They have things you can’t teach.”
While surrendering four goals in each game isn’t ideal, Pearson and his staff are happy with the efforts of both Copley and Genoe through the first weekend. Both goalies surrendered goals they would likely want back, but both also made key stops crucial to keeping the Huskies in each game.
“Pheonix, I thought, did well for his first game,” said Pearson. “Kevin is a senior. He’s been around, he knows what it takes. He made a couple of key saves at critical times. I think they both played well, but they can both play better.”
What still needs work for the Huskies?
Defensive positioning continues to plague the Huskies in the early going this season. Turnovers led to goals both nights.
“We just got to play better defensively,” said Pearson. “That’s my biggest concern. When you walk into the rink, everybody is thinking offense. It’s just how to make they are thinking defense first, and then you are going to get your chances.”
The young Huskies also have a lot to learn about playing with a lead. Saturday night, the Huskies took three consecutive penalties in the third period leading to a pair of five-on-three situations for the Lakers. Worse, the Lakers struck three times on the man advantage in the game.
“We got into situations last year where we put ourselves down five-on-three at key times in the game and really took ourselves out of the game,” said Pearson. “You just have to learn from that…I am glad it happened like it did. We can learn from it without losing the game.”
The inside scoop: a look at the Gophers
Last season, the Gophers hosted the Huskies in early December after sweeping the Minnesota State Mavericks. Riding high, the Gophers were surprised by the Huskies 3–2 in overtime Friday night when then-captain Brett Olson found the net behind goaltender Kent Patterson. A 2-2 tie evaporated in the Saturday rematch as the Gophers scored four times over the final 17 minutes.
The Gophers returned six of their top seven scorers from a season ago. Forwards Erik Haula and Nick Bjugstad are the best of the bunch. Haula led all Gophers with 20 goals and 49 points last season. Bjugstad, who scored 25 goals and 42 points, might be the top forward in the country.
“You have to know when Bjugstad is on the ice,” said Pearson. “You have to make sure you take his time and space away from him and make it tough on him.”
If their numbers are scary enough, the Gophers also boast one of the most dangerous blueliners in the country in junior Nate Schmidt. In recent years, the Gophers have produced several offensive defensemen such as Paul Martin and Mark Alt. With his strong, accurate shot, Schmidt might just be the best of the whole bunch.
“We have to make sure when he goes back to get the puck we are putting some pressure on him and be physical with him,” said Pearson. “You have to contain him.”
In goal, Shibrowski has the most experience of the Gophers’ duo, but only 20:00 more, as he spelled Patterson in a game against the Wisconsin Badgers. He made 25 saves Friday night. Wilcox was only called upon to make 10 stops Saturday night.