Fresh off a road sweep of defending national champion Minnesota-Duluth, the Gophers will host Vermont this weekend at Mariucci Arena looking to build on their early season success.
No. 8 Minnesota (4-0-0, 2-0-0 WCHA) is off to its best start since the 2001-02 season, but it has never faced the Catamounts.
âÄúI know that last year [Vermont] didnâÄôt have the year they wanted, but the two previous years they were NCAA tournament teams and a Frozen Four team. Their goaltender thatâÄôs playing took them to the Frozen Four,âÄù head coach Don Lucia said.
âÄúI know they were picked to be in the middle of the Hockey East [conference] and I know we were picked to be in the middle of the WCHA so it should be a great matchup.âÄù
Minnesota has exceeded expectations so far in 2011, defeating then-No. 9 UMD 5-4 twice Oct. 14-15.
Vermont has yet to play a game.
The Catamounts were 8-20-8 overall and 6-14-7 in the Hockey East last season, but return four of their top five point scorers from last season.
Vermont averaged only 2.28 goals per game last season in contrast to UMD, which averaged 3.40 goals per game.
While Gophers goaltender Kent Patterson may face fewer opposing scoring opportunities this weekend than he did against UMD, he will not get a break.
âÄúUntil [Patterson] needs a break he wonâÄôt get one,âÄù Lucia said. âÄúHe is our goalie and whether he plays every game, or most of the games, heâÄôs probably going to be playing pretty much every night.
âÄúHeâÄôs earned that right, and if you ask Kent, he wants to play every night.âÄù
Patterson made a career-high 46 saves in both of the teamâÄôs wins over UMD.
Minnesota will also look to exploit VermontâÄôs penalty kill unit, which allowed 35 power play goals last season.
The Gophers possess the No. 1 power play in the nation through four games. They have converted on 39 percent of their opportunities with the man advantage.
âÄúItâÄôs still early, but theyâÄôve done a nice job,âÄù Lucia. âÄúWe have the makings of what can be a good power play but we also know theyâÄôre streaking.
âÄúWeâÄôre off to a good start. Are we creating chances? ThatâÄôs the big thing I want to see out of our power play.âÄù
Lucia said he is most impressed with the teamâÄôs ability to kill penalties thus far.
âÄúIt was a real struggle for us last year, but now some of the guys we counted on to kill [penalties] last year have that year of experience,âÄù Lucia said. âÄúTheyâÄôve done a better job of it so far.âÄù
Minnesota killed only 77 percent of opposing power plays last season, but is doing so at a 90 percent rate this season.
The Gophers have scored a goal in every period this season and will look to continue that streak this weekend.
âÄúI donâÄôt know if itâÄôs a special group or anything, I just think we have some depth,âÄù Minnesota leading scorer Erik Haula said. âÄúWe have some guys that can score âÄ¦ and everyone is just doing their job right now and thatâÄôs what happens when everything is clicking, I guess.âÄù
Haula is tied for the top scorer in the nation with 9 points.
Even with the early success, Lucia said the team cannot be complacent at this point in the season.
âÄúWeâÄôre only a couple weeks in,âÄù Lucia said. âÄúAs great as itâÄôs been, we have an awful lot of work to do as a team and areas we have to improve upon.
âÄúThat is the goal this weekend âÄî to continue to improve on areas that we didnâÄôt feel like we performed where we could have last weekend.âÄù
The Gophers are 80-47-7 against Hockey East opponents all-time and the Catamounts are the only team from the conference they have never faced.