FF Capsule Preview: Minnesota
by Mike McMahon/Staff Writer
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Resume: 27-6-6, Big 10 Regular Season champions, NCAA West Regional Champions
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The Gophers' Youth Movement
You would have to slide your finger down to the No. 8 spot on Minnesota’s statistics page in order to find the first senior listed.
Of Minnesota’s top-seven scorers, three are freshmen. Three are juniors. And then there’s sophomore defensemen Mike Reilly.
All the while, a sophomore, Adam Wilcox, is manning the crease.
The Gophers’ scoring offense is still sixth-best in the country, but its top scorer, Kyle Rau, is averaging less than a point per game. They don’t have a skater with more than 15 goals and only five have hit double-digits.
Of Minnesota’s 137 goals, 56 have come off freshman sticks.
The youth movement is in full swing, but it hasn’t meant that the Gophers need to wait for its first-year players to mature. The 15-goal scorer is rookie Justin Kloo and fellow freshman Hudson Fasching is third on the team with 13.
“We can go through stretches where it is a struggle to score goals, especially when you have six freshman forwards playing most nights,” Minnesota head coach Don Lucia said.
But even when they have, the Gophers have had Wilcox to bail them out.
“We knew going into this season, with the departures that we had, that we were going to have to bring in a number of freshmen and they were going to have to play important roles for us,” Lucia said.
“They’ve performed, for the most part, all season long.”
Opening Night Shutout
For Minnesota, a 6-0 win over Mercyhurst on opening night shouldn’t mean much. But for these Gophers, it was foreshadowing what was to come.
Minnesota, a program that typically rides its goal scorers, was carried much of this season by its goaltender, Adam Wilcox. The Gophers' scoring defense was second-best in the nation, allowing just 2.00 goals per game, and Wilcox has posted a .934 save percentage.
The Wisconsin Sweep
Back in February, Big 10 rival Wisconsin swept the Gophers (2-1, 2-1) in Madison, delivering the Gophers their first Big 10 losses of the season. In the immediate aftermath, Minnesota went 6-0-1 in its next seven games, outscoring opponents by a whopping 15 goals (26-11).
“Even though we lost, we played well and I think sometimes that’s how you judge your team,” Lucia said of the sweep. “We were disappointed, obviously, to lose two games to Wisconsin. But to go on the road and give up two goals each night, we just didn’t score and that can be our team at times.”
Will history repeat itself?
Heading into the NCAA tournament, the Gophers were on the heels of their second two-game losing streak of the season after losses at Michigan to close the regular season and to Ohio State in the Big 10 tournament.
In the NCAA West Regional, the Gophers beat Robert Morris and in-state rival St. Cloud State with ease, outscoring their opponents 11-3.
Earning its Frozen Four Berth
After last week’s win over St. Cloud in the NCAA West Regional final, many in the Minnesota locker room were calling it the Gophers’ best effort of the season.
It was the epitome of Minnesota hockey this season.
“We haven’t relied on any one guy,” Lucia said. “Our top goal scorers are in the teens. We don’t have 20-goal guys. We’re a team.
“When we get all of our lines contributing like they did this weekend and our defensemen chipping in a few goals, that’s when we’re at our best.”
Players to Watch
Adam Wilcox, Soph. Goaltender
It doesn’t get much better than that Wilcox has turned in this season, posting a stellar .934 save percentage and allowing one goal or less in 15 games this season.
Wilcox shut out St. Cloud State in the regional final last week and also has shutouts against Michigan State, Ohio State, Minnesota State and Mercyhurst on his record for this season.
Back in October, he held the high-powered Boston College offense to just four goals over two games, including a 6-1 Gopher win on Oct. 27 and in three of Minnesota’s six losses this season, he only allowed two goals.
Kyle Rau, Junior, Forward
Rau has been leaned on for more than just goals his junior season. Only a junior, he’s been a player Lucia has relied on heavily to lead his young group of talented forwards.
Rau serves as a captain alongside Nate Condon.
“Both Nate Condon and Kyle Rau were outstanding,” Lucia said. “As we all know, this is the time of year where you have to have your leadership really step forward. They were able to do that and guide a group of young kids throughout the season and past a very good Robert Morris and St. Cloud State team.”
Mike Reilly, Soph., Defense
More than his 32 points in 39 games, Reilly has been the anchor of a rock-solid Minnesota defensive unit.
Coming into Minnesota as a 2011 fourth-round pick of the Columbus Blue Jackets, the biggest knock on the 5-foot-11 defender was his ability to cover in the defensive zone.
His puck-moving skills were lauded, and have been impressive. But Reilly’s work in his own end this season has been eye-opening.
Don Lucia on playing rival North Dakota: “I don’t have to throw on a tape to know how North Dakota plays because over the years we’ve played them enough. It’s a great matchup and it’s good for college hockey that we are playing on this stage. … We’re looking forward to playing a very good, well-coached team and it should be a really good game.”