After two strong weeks of exhibition play, the Gophers look to get back to regular season action in the Sin City against the University of North Dakota Fighting Hawks.
The Bob Motzko era in Minnesota is off to a fast start as the Gophers are 3-0-1 and are currently ranked as the fifth best team in the country; up eight spots from their opening season rank of 13.
Another Day Another Test
The Gophers opened their season on the road against the number one team in the country and their second series of the regular season does not get any easier. North Dakota is off to a slow start with a 1-2-1 record early on, but with two respectable losses to Bemidji State and Minnesota State-Mankato, they are ranked 17th in the nation.
Players To Watch UND:
Nick Jones – Forward – Senior
Last season for UND, Nick Jones exploded onto the scene for the Hawks with 30 points in 34 games. Jones finished 2017-18 with a team-high 15 goals; including, four game-winning goals on only 62 shots on goal the entire season.
Jones has yet to find the back of the net on the new season but is still off to a fast start with a team-leading four-points in four games.
Jones holds down the middle on the top-line for North Dakota, and Minnesota will need to keep a constant eye on Jones to keep his good looks to a minimum.
Cole Smith – Forward – Junior
Smith is a sneaky player that is off to a fast start this season. With two goals and two assists in his first four games, Smith is now just three points away from tying his career-high for points in a season (7) and is only three goals away from matching his career-high (5).
Time is going to tell if it is just a case of Smith being in the right place at the right time, or if he is on his way to a breakout season. Typically Smith plays as a fourth-line winger but could find himself with more minutes on the ice after his two-goal performance against Mankato last weekend; including this crafty game-winning goal with eight minutes to go in the third period.
COLE SMITH, MINDFREAK. 🚨🚨🚨🚨
Cole Smith plays some mind tricks on the goaltender and gets his second goal of the game and gives @UNDmhockey the lead back at 4-3 halfway through the third.#UNDproud @TheNCHC pic.twitter.com/OSw9erm1Ry
— UND Insider (@undinsider) October 21, 2018
Players To Watch Minnesota:
Brannon McManus – Forward – Sophomore
As a freshman last year for Minnesota, McManus had nine points on seven goals and two assists. Through the first two games of the season, McManus is trying to make his presence felt on the ice as he is off to a quick start with two goals and an assist.
McManus seems to be slotted as the top-line winger for Motzko, so expect McManus to continue to produce at high-levels as the season goes on.
UND has a solid defense, and with a little help from their goalies, they can easily shut any offense in the NCAA down. Led by captain Colton Poolman the North Dakota defense will limit good looks for the Gophers offense, especially for McManus, so he will have to capitalize on every chance that he gets.
Sammy Walker – Forward – Freshman
Walker is one of five Freshmen that headline the first recruiting class for Bob Motzko. Against Duluth, Walker showed flashes of being a tremendous player, as he even managed a goal in what could be considered the biggest series of the year for the Gophers.
Last week in the Gophers exhibition matchup with Trinity Western University, Walker displayed his playmaking ability as he finished the game with three assists. Along with his passing, Walker was able to get three shots on target as well.
Going into what is yet another big series for Minnesota, Bob Motzko and company are hoping for another poised performance from the Freshman forward out of Edina.
Difference Maker: UND Goaltending
North Dakota’s goaltending this season is average at best so far this season, and it will be a definite deciding factor in who comes away with a win in Vegas.
So far the goalie tandem of Peter Thome and Adam Scheel has been incredibly poor for UND. Through four games combined this season the two have a .837 save percentage and are allowing an even three goals per game.
No matter who is in net for North Dakota in this game, they are going to have to play better than they have to give their team a shot.
The Gophers showed tremendous shot selection in their last series where they had eight goals on 42 shots in the series. If UND continues to get below-average goalie play, Bob Motzko and the Gopher offense will find ways to exploit it.
Robson Looking To Stay Hot
To open the 2018-19 season, Matt Robson has been on fire. Robson has a .936 save percentage and has allowed just five goals through the first two games of the season.
Robson arguably stole a tie for Minnesota in the season opener when he stopped 31 of the 32 shots he faced; including 11 shots combined in the third period and overtime. Robson has opened his first year as the Gopher’s full-time starter well, and he seems only to be getting better.
Against Trinity Western University, Robson got one period where he allowed no goals on three shots. The Gophers will be hoping for another big game from Robson this weekend as they look to continue their climb up the preseason rankings before conference play begins a few weeks from now.