October 19, 2008 PRINT Bookmark and Share

Minnesota's Youth Sparks Sweep

by Dan Myers/CHN Staff

MINNEAPOLIS — With the number of players who typically leave Minnesota each season, youth and inexperience are often an early-season side effect for the Golden Gophers.

Last year, Minnesota started the WCHA portion of its schedule a paltry 0-4-0, mainly because the youngsters failed to contribute much of anything for the first month of the season.

The same can't be said this season, at least after one weekend. Minnesota’s young guns played critical roles in the Gophers’ surprising sweep over St. Cloud State — a team that came into the weekend having not lost to the Gophers in a regular-season game in almost three seasons.

Sure enough, playing big minutes in critical third-period situations, there were defensemen Aaron Ness and Sam Lofquist on the ice. Up front, Jordan Schroeder, Jake Hansen, Nico Sacchetti and Taylor Matson played in all situations — including the power play and the penalty kill.

And it was the Gopher special teams this weekend that likely proved the difference.

Perhaps the MVP of the night was Lofquist, who stepped in Saturday following an injury to David Fischer. He earned praise from his head coach, as well as two of his older teammates.

“Sam stepped up big tonight,” said Minnesota goaltender Alex Kangas.

“He played with confidence,” said Gopher forward Jay Barriball, who scored the Minnesota game winner. “All the young guys played with confidence and that’s a real good sign.”

Offensively, Schroeder was the only freshman to figure in the scoring, but his assist on the Barriball tally was reminiscent of a savvy veteran. Schroeder took a pass from Ryan Stoa behind the net and dished in front to Barriball who had the whole net to shoot at. The helper was Schroeder’s third of the weekend.

“Jordan just knows how to find the stick,” Barriball said. “It was a great pass by him.”

That vaunted St. Cloud power play, the one that finished among the nation’s leaders a year ago and was at 50 percent last weekend against Mercyhurst? Just 1-for-17 on the weekend.

“Anytime we can go one for the weekend, I’ll take that,” said Gophers coach Don Lucia.

Lucia said afterwards that the freshmen will likely see even more time on the specialty units next weekend in Madison, where the Gophers will face yet another bitter rival.

“I thought that young group played really well tonight,” Lucia said. “I think we’re still playing some guys too many minutes on the power play. But when we were 5-on-5, we were really playing all four lines.”

Of course a sweep at Mariucci Arena means a rousing rendition of “Battle Hymn of the Republic” following the game. Not a bad first experience for the freshmen playing their first game in the Maroon and Gold. It’s also a pleasant one for players and coaches who have not heard the song in nearly a year.

“That’s a great sound,” Lucia said. “It’s been way too long.”

If the Minnesota freshmen continue to play like they did this weekend, it’s a sound that will ring loud, proud and perhaps quite often at Mariucci this season.

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