Feb. 5, 2009

Minnesota looks to rebound from a series sweep at Minnesota State with a two-game series against rival Wisconsin at Mariucci Arena. The Gophers beat and tied the Badgers earlier this season in Madison. The series also has major implications in the WCHA standings as both teams are in the top half of the league with Wisconsin holding a three-point edge over Minnesota.

Last Time Out
The Gophers were swept by Minnesota State for the first time ever as the Mavericks posted a 6-2 win on Friday in Mankato and a 3-1 win Saturday in Minneapolis. Minnesota State scored five goals on nine shots in the second period of Friday’s game and then jumped out to a two-goal lead and added an empty net goal after Minnesota’s Patrick White scored in the third period on Saturday. Jake Hansen and Aaron Ness scored the Gophers’ goals in Friday’s defeat.

Series History
Minnesota owns a 150-79-18 lead in the all-time series with the Badgers and has enjoyed plenty of success in the rivalry at Mariucci Arena. The Gophers are 13-2-1 at home against Wisconsin over the past eight years with both losses coming during the Badgers’ national championship season in 2005-06. The teams tied 2-2 on Oct. 24 of this season in Madison before Minnesota took a 5-2 decision the following night behind two first period goals from Ryan Stoa, including a goal six seconds into the game.

About the Badgers
Wisconsin has recovered from one of its toughest starts in school history as the Badgers opened the year 0-6-1, but have gone 14-5-2 since. The Badgers have split their past two weekends, winning on Friday and losing on Saturday against Colorado College and Minnesota Duluth at home. Jamie McBain is Wisconsin’s top scorer and leads all defensemen nationally in scoring with five goals and 25 assists for 30 points. His assists total ranks fifth in the country among all players. Forward Derek Stepan has also enjoyed a strong freshman season with five goals and 16 assists for 21 points. Defensively, the Badgers lead the nation in penalty killing at 90.4 percent and, in league games, they lead the WCHA in both penalty kill and power play percentage. Wisconsin has killed off 17 straight penalties and 29 of 30 opponent power plays during the second half of the WCHA season. Goaltender Shane Connelly is third in the league with a 2.46 goals against average and owns a .911 save percentage while playing all but three games in goal.

Champs Are Back
This weekend, Minnesota will welcome back members of its 1979 national championship team. The squad, which includes eight members of the 1980 U.S. Olympic “Miracle on Ice” team, will hold a reunion social prior to Saturday’s game and be introduced during the second intermission on Saturday. The team finished 32-11-1 in the final season under legendary coach Herb Brooks and featured a roster consisting entirely of players from Minnesota.

Penalty Killing Prowess
Power play goals may be hard to come by this weekend as the series features two of the nation’s top three penalty killing teams. Wisconsin leads the nation at 90.4 percent and Minnesota is tied for third with Alaska at 90.0 percent. Miami ranks second at 90.1 percent. The Gophers’ penalty kill was ranked No. 1 for the past several weeks, but allowed three power play goals last week against Minnesota State. Minnesota is still ahead of its best penalty-killing season in school history in 2000-01 when it killed off 88.5 percent of opponent power plays.

Powering Up
While the penalty killing is solid for both teams, the power play units have also been strong as Minnesota ranks third in the nation at 21.2 percent and Wisconsin is 13th at 19.3 percent. In WCHA games, Wisconsin has scored at a 22.3 percent rate, which leads the league. Minnesota was 0-for-6 in Saturday’s game against Minnesota State and is now 1-5-1 in games when failing to score on the power play. Minnesota has already tallied 28 power play goals in 24 games this season after totaling 25 in their 45 games last season.

Extra Special
Minnesota’s special teams units have been one of the team’s biggest strengths this season as the Gophers rank second nationally in combined special teams with success on 56.6 percent of their special teams situations. Boston University leads the nation at 57.1 percent. The Gophers had struggles in special teams situations last weekend, however, as Minnesota State scored three power play goals, two shorthanders and an empty net goal among its nine goals. Minnesota, meanwhile, was held to 2-for-12 on the power play in the series.

Among the Best
Minnesota features two of the nation’s top eight individual scorers as Ryan Stoa ranks fifth with 1.30 points per game and Jordan Schroeder is eighth at 1.27 points per game. Quinnipiac is the only other team with two players among the top 10 individual scorers. Stoa has 15 goals and 15 assists for 30 points in 23 games. Schroeder has 10 goals and 18 assists for 28 points in 22 games.

Stoa Stats
In league games, Stoa leads the WCHA in both goals and points, despite playing fewer games than many of the league’s other top players. In his 17 WCHA games, Stoa has 13 goals and 25 points. He has scored multiple points in nine of his 17 conference games. Stoa was held without a point in a weekend series for the first time this season against Minnesota State.

Rookie Raves
Schroeder is the top freshman scorer among all Division I players with his 1.27 points per game. He has points in 17 of his 22 games played and had a five-game scoring streak snapped in Saturday’s loss. He is one of only two freshmen in college hockey averaging at least one point per game. The other is Doug Jones of Dartmouth at 1.10 points per game.

Down the Stretch
It should be a wild finish in the WCHA standings with five teams entering February within five points of first place. Overall, the league’s top eight teams are separated by eight points. Minnesota is five points out of the top spot, but has the most games remaining of any team in the league with 10. Eight of the other league teams have eight games remaining, while Minnesota State only has six games left to play.

Poll Position
The Gophers are ranked ninth in both national polls and have been in the top 10 every week this season. This week’s ranking matches the lowest they’ve been this year, which also happened entering the first week of the season at St. Cloud State. Minnesota has been in the top five for 10 weeks this season and spent two weeks at No. 1 in November.

Blueline Boost
Sophomore Cade Fairchild ranks fourth nationally among defensemen in scoring with five goals and 16 assists for 21 points. Fairchild was held scoreless in last weekend’s series, but still has  seven points over his past six games. Fairchild totaled two goals and 13 assists for 15 points all of last season. He also has a team-high 12 power play points and four power play points.