With how often Minnesota faces Hockey East opponents, it made sense to get a better idea of Vermont from an expert. So I reached out to one of my College Hockey News colleagues, Scott McLaughlin, to do just that.
Scott covers both Hockey East and the WCHA for CHN, which leaves him with a good knowledge of both conferences. He was nice enough to take time out of his schedule to answer questions on Vermont's growth from last year, Minnesota's perception in New England and why Ben & Jerry's is a better icon of hippie and stoner culture than Phish (Author's note: it's not.).
SBN Minnesota: Vermont struggled last season, going 6-27-1, but defeated some good teams. That includes Minnesota at Mariucci in October 2011 (a series that they split). Are the Catamounts a better or worse team this year? What has changed?
Scott McLaughlin: The Catamounts are definitely better this year, even if their record right now doesn't really show it. The two biggest changes have been their attitude and their goaltending. They worked to become a grittier, more physical team during the offseason, and they've definitely been that so far. They still aren't a very talented team, but at least they aren't being pushed around like they were last year. In net, freshman Brody Hoffman is already giving them much better goaltending than they got at any point last year.
SBN Minnesota: CCHA Big Ten schools notwithstanding, Minnesota has not been East for a regular season series since opening Agganis Arena in 2004-2005. It's rare to see them visit the Northeast and some of the unique arenas (such as Vermont's Gutterson Fieldhouse) and traditions which leaves fans on both sides in the dark. As someone who covers Hockey East, what is the perception of the Gophers in that part of the country?
McLaughlin: I think most fans out here know that the Gophers are one of the most talented teams in the country. They know that they always have a bunch of NHL picks and are always fun to watch. Minnesota is obviously one of those brand-name programs that people get excited to see, and it's no different out here. Fans might not know many specifics about this year's Minnesota team, but they probably know that the Gophers made the Frozen Four last year and have a lot of those guys back.
SBN Minnesota: Who is one player Minnesota fans should keep an eye on?
McLaughlin: Chris McCarthy. He had a goal and two assists in Vermont's win over the Gophers last year, but then he played just four more games before suffering a season-ending injury. He's healthy again, and he's leading Vermont in scoring this year. The Catamounts will rely on him even more than usual if they're without Connor Brickley and Colin Markison. Those are two of their more talented forwards, but both are battling injuries and are questionable for this weekend.
SBN Minnesota: The Catamounts have played three games since Friday. How much of an effect do you think that will have this weekend?
McLaughlin: I don't think it will have much of an effect at all. Whatever prep time they may have missed while getting ready for the UMass game on Tuesday, they can more than make up for since they don't have any classes this week. Being tired shouldn't be an issue either -- three nights in your own bed should provide plenty of rest. If they were the ones flying for this series, I'd be more concerned about the quick turnaround.
SBN Minnesota: Which is the better Burlington hippy/stoner export: Ben & Jerry's or Phish?
McLaughlin: Ben & Jerry's, easily. Phish is an overrated jam band. Ben & Jerry's, on the other hand, is impossible to overrate.
SBN Minnesota: Okay Scott, I'm putting you on the spot - what is your prediction for the weekend?
McLaughlin: The Gophers should win both games, but I think Vermont will keep one of them close. I'll go with 5-1 on Friday and 3-2 on Saturday.
You can follow Scott on Twitter @smclaughlin9 and of course read his work over at College Hockey News. He'll be at Gutterson Fieldhouse tonight and Saturday covering the series as well.
Minnesota and Vermont face off Friday and Saturday at 6:05 p.m. CT. Both games will be shown on Fox Sports North.