At right: Freshman defenseman Nick Leddy, who was picked 16th overall by the Minnesota Wild in the 2009 NHL Draft, may be back for the Gophers this weekend.
Sorry about the hiatus, loyal readers (are there any of you out there?). The University of Minnesota men's hockey team's recent 0-3 swoon, including two heartbreaking losses against UMD (both of which yours truly was in attendance for) and a game against Michigan in which the Gophers lost 6-0 and just phoned it in had forced me to take a mental health break from the team.
However, the 2-1 win over then-No. 7 Michigan State has brought me back from the edge, and I'm ready to preview the Gophers' upcoming home-and-home series versus the Minnesota State-Mankato Mavericks.
The Gophers, in ninth place at 3-6-1 in the WCHA and 5-8-1 overall, face off against the seventh-place Mavericks (4-7-1, 6-7-1) tonight in Minneapolis and Saturday night at the Alltel Center in Mankato. This is a huge series for the Gophers, who have a chance to bank some key WCHA points before the Christmas break with Mankato this weekend and Michigan Tech next weekend.
Mankato is a team paced by its upperclassmen. Senior forwards Jerad Stewart (6-6-12) and Zach Harrison (4-8-12) lead the team with 12 points scored on the season, with juniors Ben Youds (0-10-10) and Rylan Galardi (3-6-9) next on the team in scoring. In fact, the Mavericks have only 27 points total from the 11 freshman and sophomore skaters on the roster.
The fact that this team is very experienced will definitely play a role in the series, as the Mavs should be itching to avenge last year's fight instigated by Gopher defenseman Brian Schack. The fight resulted in a pileup, during which Channing Boe broke his leg and ended his season last year.
Schack may not need to suit up for the Gophers this weekend, though, as freshman defenseman Nick Leddy is likely to return to action against the Mavs. Leddy's return should give the Gophers seven available defensemen, a welcome respite for a team that was thin on players due to the Leddy and Barriball injuries as well as the Lofquist departure.
I expect the Gophers to build on their big win over the Spartans last Saturday and get two more key wins this weekend against one of Minnesota's biggest in-state foes. The Gophers will win a fairly close 4-2 game Friday, and Saturday's game in Mankato will get chippy toward the end as the Maroon and Gold pound the Mavericks, 6-1. Expect both Alex Kangas and Kent Patterson to get a start in goal for the Gophers this weekend.