Gophers hockey: Five questions answered

The Minnesota Gophers men's hockey team split its first two games of the season over the weekend, losing 4-0 to Maine Friday and defeating Nebraska Omaha 7-3 Saturday. GoldenSports.Net takes a look at five things we learned about the team over the weekend.

Welcome to life as a college hockey player. With many new faces making their collegiate debut Friday, the Gophers hockey team lost to Maine 4-0 in the first game of the Maverick Stampede in Omaha, Neb. Saturday the Gophers came back to defeat Nebraska-Omaha 7-3 in the consolation game. The Gophers are now off until Oct. 24, when they open WCHA play at home against Minnesota Duluth.

No one wants to lose, but the Gophers learned a lot over the weekend. Here is at look at five questions that were answered over the weekend:

1. Still The Comeback Kids

Did you really think the Gophers were going to lose that second game against UNO? Not just because the Gophers are a better team than the Mavericks, but the Gophers have not lost consecutive games since they lost three in a row March 16-23, 2001. Minnesota has gone 13-0-4 since then after losing a game, a school-record streak of 90 games. That bodes well come WCHA time, when getting a split on the road in hostile territory is sometimes the key to winning the regular season title.

2. Depth is a Strength:

Fifteen different Gophers tallied at least one point against UNO. With the loss of Paul Martin to pro hockey, and everybody in the arena keying on Thomas Vanek, the Gophers must find other offensive weapons to shoulder the scoring load this season. The weekend series was a good step in that direction. Judd Stevens scored two goals against UNO, the first two-goal game of his career.

3. Mixing and Matching:

It's going to take some time for the Gophers to learn how to play with each other in game situations. Freshman Danny Irmen scored his first goal as a Gopher, with Garrett Smaagaard and Peter Kennedy gaining an assist on the play against UNO. Combinations like that will be crucial to the Gophers success this year, and finding the right mix will take time. There are a lot players out to prove they can do more at the Division I level than they have shown before, now they finally have that opportunity

4. Briggs Gets First Win:

Kellen Briggs earned a win in his first collegiate start Saturday. Briggs started slowly, and the Gophers trailed 3-0 after the first period and 3-2 after the second period. But as the Gophers dominated the third period, scoring five goals, Briggs became more comfortable in net. Briggs stopped 18 of 21 shots in the game. Justin Johnson stopped 23 shots in the loss to Maine Friday. Johnson will likely be the No. 1 goalie this season, but as Johnson proved last year, a good No. 2 is a valuable commodity.

5. The Negatives:

The loss to Maine proved the Gophers still need time to jell and to come together as a unit. Maine is a much better team than UNO and was a good early-season challenge for the Gophers. Minnesota's loss snapped a 12-game unbeaten streak and an eight-game winning streak. It was Minnesota's first season-opening loss since the Black Bears downed UM, 5-3, on Oct. 16, 1999, in Orono, Maine. It was also the first time Minnesota has been shut out since a 3-0 loss to St. Cloud State in the semifinals of the WCHA Final Five on March 16, 2001, a span of 91 games.

However, Gophers players and coaches know one thing – it's better to lose to Maine now than it is later – which could be in the NCAA tournament, when these two teams could very well meet again.

Matt Krumrie covers Gophers hockey for GoldenSports.Net. He can be reached at gopherhockeyinsider@yahoo.com

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