College Hockey Series of the Week: No. 5 Minnesota-Duluth vs No. 4 Minnesota
Year in and year out, the state of Minnesota produces some of the best teams in college hockey.
This year is no different, for the third straight week, there is a top-five matchup between two Minnesota schools. The No. 5 Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs face the No. 4 Minnesota Golden Gophers in a home-and-home series.
The first game is set for Friday at 8 p.m. from Minneapolis, while game two is on Saturday with puck-drop at 8:07 p.m. from AMSOIL Arena in Duluth.
Starting it off with the Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs, the national champions in 2018 and 2019, couldn’t cap off the three-peat falling short in the national semifinals. Scott Sandelin’s team is back after a 15-11-2 season and looks poised for another title run.
The Bulldogs started the year with a sweep over Bemidji State, then over the weekend at the Ice Breaker, they fell to No. 3 Michigan, 5-1., although, they would respond the next day with a 3-2 win over Providence College.
Minnesota-Duluth lost its top three scorers from a year ago, Nick Swaney, Jackson Cates and Cole Koepke. Like years in the past the Bulldogs have reloaded, as Kobe Roth, Koby Bender and Noah Cates return for another year.
Roth was tied with Koepke for the third most points last year, with 23, and is off to a good start this year with a team high four points. While Cates and Bender are just behind him with three and two points, respectively.
In the defensive group there is a lot of talent returning, including sophomore Wyatt Kaiser. Last season, Kaiser led all Duluth defenders with 10 points, all coming from assists, and he currently has one point so far. A bright spot for the group is freshman Owen Gallatin, who leads blueliners with two points.
Down in between the pipes, Minnesota-Duluth has one of the best tandems in Ryan Fanti and Zack Stejskal. So far, Fanti has been the better of the two posting a 2-0 record, with a 1.50 goals against average and .932 save percentage.
Bob Motzko’s Gophers had an impressive 2020-21 season, where they were Big Ten champions, but lost to Minnesota State in the Loveland Regional Final. This year, Minnesota is off to another strong start and sits 3-1 on the season.
Minnesota opened its season with a sweep over Mercyhurst, while last weekend it split the series with No. 2 St. Cloud State. The Huskies took game one, 2-0 in Minneapolis, but the Gophers responded in game two with a 4-3 overtime win in St. Cloud.
Minnesota lost two of its top scorers from a year ago in Sampo Ranta and Scott Reedy, who tallied 31 and 28 points, respectively. However, the Gophers still have a majority of their production back and they are picking up the slack.
Senior Blake McLaughlin leads the team with seven points, while Bryce Brondzinski leads the team in goals, with four, and has six points total. Captain Sammy Walker, is coming off a 29-point season and has five points to start the year. Also tied with Walker for points is junior Ben Meyers, he has one goal and four assists.
Minnesota also boasts a deep group of defensemen, headlined by Jackson Lacombe and Ryan Johnson. Last year Lacombe led defensemen with 21 points and has one point so far. Johnson had 14 points and is tied with Brock Faber among Gopher defensemen with two points.
Down in the blue paint is the biggest strength for the Gophers in reigning Richter Award winner Jack LaFontaine. Last season he posted a 22-7 record with 1.79 goals-against average, .934 save percentage and five shutouts.
While LaFontaine is 3-1 on the year, he hasn’t been off to a strong start, posting 3.02 goals-against average, .872 save percentage and no shutouts.
Another week, another top-five matchup between the NCHC and the Big Ten. Both squads are coming off a tough weekend, but they were able to split their games. This weekend seems to be on a similar course, so don’t be surprised by a split and maybe even another overtime.
Prediction: 1-1 Split
Game 1: Minnesota 4, Minnesota-Duluth 3
Game 2: Minnesota-Duluth 3, Minnesota 0
Matthew Scalzo is a second-year majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Second Year / Broadcast Journalism