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Misc. Notes and Thoughts from the X

Obviously tonight was not Tyler Hirsch's night of redemption at the XCel. He was held out of tonight's game for being late to a team meeting. Fellow senior Kellen Briggs was also in street clothes tonight due to a "violation of team rules". Don Lucia said after the game that the coaches "wanted to set some examples after (what happened) last season". The presence of Hirsch and Briggs was sorely missed, but tonight was about growing as a team for the future for Minnesota, and the message sent by the coaches will probably have a more positive long-term affect than if they had played.

Jeff Frazee is probably his toughest critic, but I thought he played pretty well tonight. Both Frazee and coach Lucia thought he overplayed the puck a little on the first goal of the game, though given the way the puck redirected, it's not likely he could have made the save regardless. Frazee said he was "a little shaky for the first 10 minutes, but then settled down and played well". He also said he got outplayed by Ben Bishop, though I'm sure most people would agree that if he only gives up two goals a night, most nights the Gopher offense is going to score enough goals to win the game.

Speaking of the Gopher offense, Don Lucia said after the game that he thought the Gophers might be "streaky offensively", and that they lacked a go-to upperclassmen. I really agree with that. Perhaps it's just early in the season, but the Gophers didn't seem to move the puck around like Minnesota teams in the past. Most of their chances came off individual rushes up the ice.

The biggest story of the night for the Gophers offense was little Jay Barriball. I hate admitting when I'm wrong, but I didn't think he'd make that big of an impact coming straight from high school, especially at his size. Barriball was outstanding tonight though. He looks tiny on the ice compared to everyone else. He was asked how tall he was and he said "5'8", 5'9"", but my guess is that he's closer to 5'7". He plays a lot bigger than his size though. He's not afraid to go out and throw around what little weight he has. Don Lucia said "Jay is a hockey player. He's a throwback". He was probably the best Gopher forward on the ice tonight.

One guy that was really good that I actually thought would be really good was Barriball's linemate Michael Carman. He's known for his tenacity and he was all over the ice tonight. He also showed that he has a little speed and skill to go with his grit and determination. He didn't get an assist, but it was his hard work that really helped set up Barriball's goal. He also drew a penalty with his hard work.

Ryan Flynn was the third on the Barriball/Carman line, and I wasn't as impressed with his performance, but the Don and some other media members thought he played really well.

Kyle Okposo is going to be an amazing player. I can't think of another college forward with his mix of speed, hands, and strength. I could see him turning into a guy that the Gophers really count on for production by the end of this season. After that, who knows, maybe the Islanders will sign him to a 20 year contract.

Jim O'Brien got off to a slow start, but really impressed me later on in the game. Before all is said and done, I think he'll have a huge year too.

Aside from those guys, Minnesota's forwards were largely unimpressive. Blake Wheeler missed a golden opportunity in the second period when Minnesota caught Maine changing and Wheeler couldn't finish off a 2-on-1. I'm still not convinced that I like him at center.
Obviously a lot of attention was going to placed on Erik Johnson in his first collegiate game. If I had to grade him, I'd probably give him a B. He started a little slow, but once he got into a rhythm, he played well. The area where he has the most room for improvement is offensively. He could improve his poise on the powerplay. On one powerplay in the second period, he fired two shots into a Maine defender, and had one shot that got through, but was an easy save because he didn't give his teammates time to get traffic in front of the net. He also probably should have finished off that cross-ice pass in the first period. Overall though, he played a very solid game.

It should be interesting to see how he does with Alex Goligoski. Don Lucia said that they still have to get used to playing with each other. The two times that Johnson tried to rush the puck, Goligoski rushed too, and the puck got turned over and almost caused a breakaway. Playing with EJ could force Goligoski to be more defensively aware when Johnson takes off. That could actually help Goligoski since that is probably the weakest part of his game.

I really like Minnesota's second defensive pairing of Mike Vannelli and Derek Peltier. They played like you would expect a senior and a junior to play. They didn't really do anything flashy, but they logged a lot of ice time and didn't make many mistakes.

The third pairing of R.J. Anderson and David Fischer probably has the most improving to do, but I also love the potential they have. Don Lucia said that Anderson "took another step forward tonight". Fischer looked like he was still adjusting to the speed of the college game, but once the game slows down for him a little, he'll be a great defenseman.

I didn't watch Maine as closely so I don't have as many notes on them.

Michel Leveille definitely deserves mention as one of the best players in the country. I was extremely impressed with him. He's a great stickhandler and an amazing passer.

Teddy Purcell is going to have a huge year because he can just set up in the slot and wait for Leveille to feed him the puck. Maine had some nice chances that way, and I think they'll finish off a lot of those this year.

Ben Bishop does a great job of using his size to his advantage. He does a nice job of squaring up to the shooter, and after that, he doesn't need to do much. The one goal he did give up is one he'd like to have back. He gave up a fat rebound off Mike Vannelli's shot that went right to Jay Barriball. Vannelli held onto the puck a little longer than Bishop expected, throwing off Bishop's timing, and causing him to give up the rebound.