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Non-Golden Gophers

GRAND FORKS -- Minnesota entered fall camp with seemingly one sure thing. With three first-round draft picks up front two top-10 selections and every forward back from last year's most potent offense in the league, the Gophers figured to be one o...

GRAND FORKS -- Minnesota entered fall camp with seemingly one sure thing.

With three first-round draft picks up front two top-10 selections and every forward back from last year's most potent offense in the league, the Gophers figured to be one of the most explosive teams in recent history.

That's what makes the first half of the 2007-08 season such a mystery.

Minnesota, picked to finish second by the Western Collegiate Hockey Association coaches, sits unexpectedly at 4-6 in league play (8-7-1 overall) and a lack of offense is a major reason for the struggles.

The Gophers are averaging just 2.5 goals per game. That mark is down more than a full goal from last season (3.66), and it's the lowest production by any Minnesota team in Don Lucia's nine-year tenure.

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The previous low of 3.52 in 2004-05 is more than a full goal higher than the Gophers' average through last weekend's split with Michigan Tech.

"It's a little bit frustrating," Minnesota captain Derek Peltier said. "A lot of people expected us to put up a lot more goals. Early in the season, we haven't been able to find chemistry on all of our lines. We've been inconsistent, up and down. Hopefully we can get something going."

Minnesota is used to dominance on offense. Since 2000, the Gophers have ranked in the top three in the WCHA each season in goals per game. This season, they are seventh.

The struggles can be traced to a turnover on the blue line, an ineffective power play and forwards who haven't produced as expected.

While the Gophers returned a full stock of forwards, they lost their top three defensemen from last season in All-American Alex Goligoski, No. 1 overall draft pick Erik Johnson and former captain Mike Vannelli. That trio combined for more than 100 points on the blue line last season.

The drop off has been major this fall. Minnesota's defensemen averaged .51 points per game a year ago compared to .27 now.

"No question we have guys going through a period of adjustment," Minnesota coach Don Lucia said. "Our All-Americans have signed (pro contracts). We're having guys play roles that we didn't anticipate. When you are recruiting a few years back, you don't know when you're going to lose guys. So maybe we recruited different types of players.

"There are a whole host of reasons, but you still have to perform. Other guys have to step up and do the job."

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The losses on the blue line have hurt Minnesota's usually dominant power play. The Gophers are converting just 11.6 percent of their chances with the extra man eighth in the WCHA. This is the first time since 2000 that Minnesota's power play has dipped below 20 percent and out of the top five in the league.

"Special teams have been a big issue, especially not scoring on the power play," Lucia said. "We're learning how to live without some key players from last year's team and we're trying to persevere here in the first half."

Minnesota also is looking to get more out of its top scorers from last season, Jay Barriball and Kyle Okposo. Barriball scored 20 goals as a rookie but has just two now. Okposo tallied 40 points last season but has 10 entering the rivalry weekend.

Despite the struggles, North Dakota coach Dave Hakstol worries about Minnesota's offense as the teams prepare to renew their rivalry in Grand Forks this weekend.

"My perspective is that up front they are as good or better than anyone in the league when you look at their personnel and ability," Hakstol said. "That's not going to change. Don't be misled by some of the stats. They transition as well as anybody. They have as much offensive punch as anybody."

The Grand Forks Herald and The Dickinson Press are both owned by Forum Communications Co.

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