Is there a better way to rebound from your first loss of the year than travel thousands of miles and face the team which ended your season last year?
Probably. Traveling to Alaska has to be a pain in the you-know-what but regardless, that's exactly what the University of Minnesota hockey team (5-1-0, 2-0-0 WCHA) will be doing this weekend as the eighth-ranked Golden Gophers face the Alaska-Anchorage Seawolves Friday and Saturday at Sullivan Arena. Minnesota looks to get past a 5-4 loss to the University of Vermont Sunday where the maroon and gold gave up four second-period goals and return to WCHA play against an always dangerous Anchorage team.
It's a danger the Gophers know all too well. The Seawolves (3-2-1, 0-2-0 WCHA) came into Mariucci Arena last year in the first round of the WCHA playoffs and swept Minnesota on their home ice. Sophomore goalie Chris Kamal, then a freshman, stood on his head at times as the Gophers lost 4-3 and 2-0.
In fact, Anchorage has won four of the last five meetings against the Gophers.
Despite that, the Seawolves can be beaten. Alaska-Anchorage was swept last weekend by Nebraska-Omaha and while they beat both the Mavericks and St. Cloud State in non-conference games (the Seawolves played both as part of the Alaska Gold Rush tournament), they are near the middle in most team categories.
This weekend's series likely looks to hinge on the always classic battle between offense and defense. Other than junior Mickey Spencer, no Alaska-Anchorage player has more than two goals this season while the Gophers have six players with more than two (led by freshman Kyle Rau's six goals).
However the Seawolves may have an advantage on the blue line. Although both teams have good goalies - junior Kent Patterson leads the nation in shutouts with three for the Gophers - the Seawolves have traditionally trapped their way to victory by forcing more skilled teams to take shots from the outside. If Alaska is going to win, they are going to need to find a way to shut down the potent Gophers offense as Minnesota has not scored less than four goals in any game this season.
That makes this weekend a good test for the Gophers as they re-enter WCHA play and face a slew of physical teams in the near future. Winning on the road in the WCHA is always difficult - in fact Minnesota's two wins in Duluth are the only WCHA road wins this season - so any points the Gophers get will be well-earned and go a long way to continuing this season's strong start.
And of course, getting some revenge from last season is always nice too.
Both games this weekend start at 10 PM Central time and will not be broadcast on television. They will however air live on ESPN 1500 and stream here.