MINNEAPOLIS, Minn.–This weekend, No. 22 Minnesota (1-2, 0-1 CCLA) will cap off its 5-game home-stand with a pair of games versus Pittsburgh (0-2, 0-1 CCLA) and Minn-Duluth (0-2). The Gophers will be looking to rebound from their current 2-game skid before they hit the road the following weekend for a pair of games in Atlanta, Ga.
Recapping Last Game:
Last weekend, Minnesota fell to St. Thomas 12-10 as they were unable to recover from a disastrous first quarter. The Tommies started the opening quarter on fire, scoring the first goal 53 seconds into the game. They then followed that up with three goals within a minute at the 8:39 minute mark. After a timeout, Aaron Peterson relieved Max Chlan in goal. Trenton Woodcock was able to win the faceoff and notched Minnesota’s first goal of the game while drawing a penalty. However, St. Thomas responded by winning the faceoff and scoring man-down. Two more St. Thomas goals gave the Tommies a 7-1 lead at the end of the first.
The Tommies were able to take a lead as large as 10-3 midway through the third before Minnesota’s efforts began to break through St. Thomas. Amar Batra scored a pair of goals towards the tail end of the 3rd. The Tommies answered with a quick goal of their own, before Grant Oie connected with Malik Ekpenyong in the crease, who scored a highlight reel behind-the-back goal while falling down with 4 seconds remaining in the 3rd to bring score to 11-6.
St. Thomas scored another quick goal to open up the 4th quarter before the Gophers were able to continue clawing their way back into the game. Minnesota was able to mount a 4 goal run with goals from Swanson, Batra, Sampson, and Harel to close the score to 12-10. However the 7-goal deficit was too much for the Gophers to overcome. With a late Minnesota penalty in the last several minutes of the game, St. Thomas was able to run out the clock and walk away with the victory.
The Good and the Bad
We’ll start off with the bad news first. The Gophers have been hampered by illnesses and injuries the past couple weeks. Eight players are questionable heading into this weekend. In addition, freshmen Andrew Bianchini and Charlie Kidder have yet to make their debut as they currently remain out indefinitely with injuries sustained in the fall. Junior midfielder and faceoff specialist Thomas Luedke has been ruled out for the remainder of the season after undergoing surgery for a broken ankle from week one.
The good news, however is the return of Niklas Damberg. The senior midfielder and faceoff specialist will return to the faceoff X after competing in the slalom and giant slalom at the USCSA Lake Superior Divisionals and USCSA Regional Championships the past two weekends. The three-time All American has averaged a .678 (427-630) win percentage at the X throughout is college career. Last season, he was 144-228 (.632) while playing with a fractured arm during the majority of the season. Now fully healthy, Damberg will be a key x-factor for the Gophers throughout the remainder of the season.
The Panthers are hunting for their first win of the season after losses to No. 24 Boston College and No. 10 Michigan State last weekend. Their trip to Minnesota is only the first stop of a 2-game road trip as they will travel to Michigan to play Central Michigan the following day. Pittsburgh’s biggest loss from last season is the graduation of attackman Matt Higgins who led the team in points (33 goals, 35 assists) and defensemen Chris Carney. Last season, Minnesota walked away with a 20-10 win over Pittsburgh during their regular season matchup. However, just three weeks later, Pittsburgh upset the Gophers with a 12-11 win in the CCLA semifinal.
The Bulldogs are also looking for their first win on the season this weekend. Though they will get their first chance against St. Thomas on Saturday before they play Minnesota Sunday morning. Despite starting their season 0-2, Duluth has only dropped to No. 8 in the Division II polls. In fact they are the lowest ranked team in the UMLC DII powerhouse conference.
The Bulldogs have had a history of dominating Minnesota, owning a 23-5 record since 2001. However, the Gophers seem to have gained the upper edge against Duluth recently. Minnesota has won the past three consecutive regular season matchups with a 10-9 triple overtime victory in 2015, 14-5 win in 2016, and a 10-4 win in 2017.
Duluth brings back a more talented and experienced team with all of their top players returning this season. Their top two scorers last year, Jared Johnson and Ryan Larson, are now only sophomores. They have also added sophomore Scott McNamara, a Holy Angels product who transferred from Marquette. In goal, another sophomore Blake Nastrom has claimed his spot as their No. 1 goalie. Nastrom made 25 saves in their 9-8 loss to Michigan State and 12 saves in their 11-5 loss to NDSU. Also, a familiar face at defense is graduate student and former Gopher, Connor Mills. Mills appeared in 23 total games with Minnesota before transferring to Duluth.