Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Know Your Enemy: Minnesota

Our second entry for this year's Know Your Enemy is a team that RPI got the opportunity to face-off against last season in a game they weren't guaranteed in the Mariucci Classic. After losing to Ferris State, it looked like a matchup with the Gophers was likely gone, but Minnesota's shootout loss to Colgate produced an unexpected RPI-Minnesota matchup in the consolation game of the tournament that featured exceptional finishing by the Gophers in a 6-2 loss. This year, Minnesota looms once more as a potential second-day opponent in an in-season tournament.

Nickname: Golden Gophers
Location: Minneapolis, MN
Founded: 1851
Conference: Big Ten
National Championships: 5 (1974, 1976, 1979, 2002, 2003)
Last NCAA Appearance: 2014
Last Frozen Four: 2014
Coach: Don Lucia (16th season)
2013-14 Record: 28-7-6 (14-4-3-0 Big Ten, 1st place)
Series: Minnesota leads, 10-2-0
First Game: March 12, 1953 (Colorado Springs, CO)
Last RPI win: December 10, 1988 (Minneapolis, MN)
Last Minnesota win: January 4, 2014 (Minneapolis, MN)

2014-15 game: October 12, 2014 (South Bend, IN - possible)

Key players: F Seth Ambroz, sr.; F Travis Boyd, sr.; F Christian Isackson, sr.; D Ben Marshall, sr.; F Kyle Rau, sr.; F Sam Warning, sr.; D Mike Reilly, jr.; D Brady Skjei, jr.; G Adam Wilcox, jr.; D Jake Bischoff, so.; F Taylor Cammarata, so.; F Justin Kloos, so.; F Hudson Fasching, so.; D Ryan Collins, fr.; D Jack Glover, fr.

Previous KYE installment:
If there's one team that almost ritually gets slammed with early departures, it's the University of Minnesota. Regularly attracting some of the top talent in the west (and recently, beyond), the Gophers churn out NHLers like it's going out of style - and that frequently means losing top players before their college eligibility is exhausted. It's not uncommon to see Minnesota drop its four or five top scorers from the previous season regardless of their class year.

This season? Well, so far, the Gophers haven't lost a single underclassman, and their top seven scorers from last season (Rau, Warning, Reilly, Kloos, Boyd, Fasching, and Cammarata) are all set to return next year. For a program that is used to requiring significant contributions from freshmen - and three of those players were freshmen last season - they're going to have a wealth of college experience leading the way in the coming season off a year in which Minnesota very nearly captured their sixth national championship.

Yes, Minnesota has completed the Capital Region double in having now lost to both RPI and Union in the national championship game (albeit 60 years apart), but they essentially bring back everything that got them there this season. Goaltender Wilcox put up a GAA under 2.00 for the season, which made him one of the best netminders in the nation. Adding to the seven players mentioned above, Ambroz notched 14 goals as the team's ninth highest scorer. Ponder that for a second.

The Gophers captured the very first Big Ten regular season title in 2014, but were upset by Ohio State in the semifinals of the Big Ten tournament despite playing in front of what was essentially a home crowd at the Xcel Energy Center. They clobbered Robert Morris and St. Cloud State in the West Regional in the same building, then beat their arch-rivals North Dakota with a (literally) last-second shorthanded goal before simply being unable to match Union blow for blow in the title game.

Put very simply, this is a team that is stacked and ready to win now. Considering what they accomplished last year and what they bring back, we'll be hard pressed to find a team that'll be more likely to be favored for the national championship than the Gophers. They should be very solid favorites in the first round of the Icebreaker against Minnesota-Duluth, which means that if the Engineers are playing Minnesota, it's highly likely something has already cut their way against Notre Dame. That is fairly good news, but the Gophers would present an even bigger challenge. We saw last year the discipline that Minnesota displayed against RPI and the resilience that led them to answer quickly each challenge that the Engineers put forward. With a team that will essentially just be another year older, it'll be a tough hill to climb for RPI if they see the "U" across the ice in South Bend on the Sunday of the Icebreaker.

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