Originally posted on Fox Sports North  |  Last updated 10/14/11
The Minnesota Gopher men's hockeysquad got off to a flying start last weekend, beating overmatched Sacred Heart 9-0 on Friday and 6-0 on Saturday. Ten different players recorded a goal and fifteen different players recorded a point while goaltender Kent Patterson started the season with back-to-back shutouts. Now Minnesota will get its first test of the year, asit travels to Duluth to take on the defending national champions, the Minnesota-DuluthBulldogs. On paper this looks like a very entertaining, high-octane type of series, where the last team to score might get the win both nights. Here is a breakdown of the match-up this weekend:Offense: The Bulldogs are led by JT Brown and Jack Connelly, who anchor an electric first line. Connelly is the playmaker -- he has soft hands and great rink vision. Brown is a rugged but speedy winger who is terrific in transition. The Gophers have big, strong Nick Bjugstad who can outmuscle defenders on the wall but also create space with his size around the net. He has a quick release when shooting and a sniper's mentality when in the offensive zone. Minnesota also has a solid core of exciting first years players to watch, including Kyle Rau and Sam Warning. Both are very fast and they can bury the puck when left alone on the rush. Edge: Bulldogs Defense:UMD returns three of the six on defense from last year's championship run, headed by junior Wade Bergman, who is smart with the puck but even better without it. The 'Dogs lack the star power of last year on the blueline but they are well-coached and they play well together. Minnesota is led by sophomore Mark Alt, who can control the defensive end with his brut physical strength and long reach. He is joined by junior Seth Helgeson and sophomore Nate Schmidt. Helgeson is a bruising physical player that can get in the face of his opponents to frustrate them all over the rink. Schmidt is a crafty, skilled player who is great at rushing and dishing the puck.Edge: Gophers Goaltending:UMD returns both Aaron Crandall and Kenny Reiter in net. Both are athletic and flashy in the crease. Reiter was the story during last year's postseason and he should be full of confidence as this season gets rolling. Minnesota returns its team MVP in senior Kent Patterson, who was brilliant all of last year as the team struggled to score goals on a regular basis. Patterson was named Co-WCHA Defensive Player of the Week after recording two shutouts last weekend and he is one of the top netminders in the nation.Edge: Gophers Special teams:Last year UMD posted an amazing 23 on the power-play, including four goals at the Frozen Four to help them defeat Notre Dame and Michigan and win the National Championship. Gone are Mike Connelly and Justin Fontaine but plenty of weapons from that team remain. The Gophers graduated their top three scorers in Mike Hoeffel, Jay Barriball and Jacob Cepis but a talented group of freshmen have arrived and Nick Bjugstad is a beast in 5-on-4 situations. Edge:Bulldogs Under the radar:Watch out for UMD forward Jake Hendrickson, the Burnsville native was a pure goal-scorer in high school and, after learning the system last year, he is sitting on a big year for the 'Dogs. The Gophers have a small, quick and super talented first-year defenseman in Mahtomedi's Ben Marshall. He will be the QB on the top power-play and he is skilled enough to take the puck end to end and score goals -- very fun player to watch. Edge:Tie BulldogsGophers Prediction:This series has split written all over it. The teams split the season series last year 1-1-2 and this year it figures to be tight once again. The Bulldogs have an edge in experience but the Gophers have the better set of defenseman and one the nation's best goalie in Kent Patterson. Minnesota wins Friday night, 4-3, and UMD gets revenge on Saturday night, 4-2, with an empty-net goal. TV: Friday night FS North will cover the game starting at 6:30pm with Gophers Live Presented by Century Link. Saturday night coverage again starts at 6:30 p.m., but the game will be on an alternate channel ... please check local listings.
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