If Thanksgiving has taught us anything, there is nothing better than being surrounded by family and of course, the home cooking and meals. Thanksgiving has come and go but fortunately for the Gophers, they get a little home cooking of their own this weekend.
After completing their first winless weekend of the season against Michigan State, the University of Minnesota hockey team begins a stretch of seven games at Mariucci Arena. In fact, Minnesota (11-4-1, 8-2-0 WCHA) does not play on the road again until January 13th against North Dakota. But for now, the opponent in front of the fifth-ranked Gophers is the Minnesota State Mavericks.
Minnesota State (3-10-1, 2-7-1 WCHA) becomes the third in-state opponent for the Gophers this season. The
Screaming Eagles Mavericks have struggled so far as injuries and inexperience have taken their toll. Four defensemen have missed a combined 34 games due to injury and sophomore forward Chase Grant (who scored 20 points as a freshman) is out for the season with a hip injury.
All the injuries have meant that several freshmen have gotten opportunities they would not have otherwise. Two freshmen, forwards Jean-Paul Lafontaine (nephew of Pat) and Matt Letiner, lead the Mavericks in points with ten and defenseman Zach Palmquist has been a rock on the blue line. Along with upperclassmen like former Gopher Michael Dorr and goalie Austin Lee, Minnesota State have impact players but they are on a five-game losing streak.
Minnesota is also looking to right their own ship after going 2-3-1 in their last six games. Last weekend saw the Gophers have a multitude of problems which have popped up during this stretch, This includes a slow start Friday, an abysmal second period play (although the Maroon and Gold did score 2 of their 3 second period goals on Saturday) and Kent Patterson being left out to dry by the defense.
In fact, the main reason the Gophers lost on Saturday (not counting the referees) was that for the first time all season Patterson was outplayed by an opposing goalie. While the senior goalie has been on a Hobey-like tear this season, he has had to make plenty of difficult saves all year and last weekend saw Spartans goalie Drew Palmisano be that guy.
There are positives, such as Nick Bjugstad being named the national player of the month for November, but this weekend's series against Minnesota State comes at a good time. With the Mavericks facing injuries and a five-game losing streak, now is a good time for the Gophers to strike; however they would be remiss to forget the fact Minnesota State is 5-2-1 against them in their last eight games.
But returning home for two very winnable games is a recipe Minnesota hopes to enjoy.
Minnesota and Minnesota State face off for two games Friday and Saturday at Mariucci Arena. Both games start at 7 PM Central and are broadcast on Fox Sports North, with Friday's game being on alternate channels. For more Gophers coverage, be sure to check out The Daily Gopher.