MINNEAPOLIS- Behind senior captain Kyle Rau's pair of goals bookmarking the second period, top-ranked Minnesota defeated Northern Alberta Institute of Technology 5-0 in an NCAA exhibition game at Mariucci Arena.
Rau (Florida Panthers) got his first 54 seconds into the second period when the hard working forward tapped linemate Hudson Fasching's (Buffalo Sabres) pass past Ooks goaltender Kyle Birch. Then with 9 seconds remaining in the period the senior one-upped himself, scoring on his own rebound of a Connor Reilly tipped shot
Prior to Rau's goal, freshman defenseman Jack Glover (Winnipeg Jets) unofficially scored his first collegiate goal in the first period. The 18 year-old snapped a wrist shot from the top of the slot. Senior forwards Christian Isackson (Buffalo Sabres) and Travis Boyd (Washington Capitals) lit the lamp in the third period, with Boyd's goal being set up on a cross-ice pass by Seth Ambroz (Columbus Blue Jackets).
Three Gopher goalies combined for a 24 save shutout. Adam Wilcox (Tampa Bay Lightning) made 12 saves in the first period while facing the heaviest NAIT presence. Junior Ryan Coyne (5) and freshmen Nick Lehr (7) also stood tall in the second and third periods, respectively.
It's an exhibition game so I won't go too much into detail other than goals and saves. Nothing counts since no one got a game misconduct. Minnesota, like all college teams, are getting its start. Saturday was the first official full practice the Gophers had with coaches besides the 2 hours a week allowed the last couple. The team will be different when Minnesota opens play Friday against Minnesota-Duluth at the Ice Breaker in South Bend, Indiana.
Simply there isn't a lot to go from Saturday from a performance standpoint. If that was the case, Isackson would have put up 30 goals after his hat trick a couple years ago. The freshmen looked nervous early - Glover had a giveaway that forced Wilcox to make a breakaway save and Johnson took a bad penalty - before settling in with both players hitting the post on shots. Doesn't say much long-term. All besides Lehr will get chances to play early.
In the surest sign that Saturday was an exhibition Fasching was held out of the late second and third after getting "dinged." Head coach Don Lucia said he would have played if it was a regular season game. It also allowed an extra spot on the bench, which helps when 14 forwards and 8 defensemen are playing.
Instead of looking at how players did, here are some thoughts on strategy and how Minnesota looks a week out from opening night. If you have a question about a player, I'll be happy to answer it on Twitter (@gopherstate) or in the comments. Just not here.
(Except one. Since several people have already asked - freshman forward Leon Bristedt looked good in his North American debut. He's a smooth skater with a sneaky shot. Don't like to read much into an exhibition game, but I liked how he played.)
-The biggest takeaway Friday was looking at the different line combinations Lucia was trying out with the Gophers. Inconsistency was the consistency. While not having Fasching made juggling lines even easier for the forwards, Lucia is trying to keep last season's three scoring lines. That system paid off in spades because each line would get hot at different times and put the team on their shoulders. Few teams were able to defend all three.
He still has the bones remaining of his last season and three players fighting for 2 spots. Redshirt sophomore forward Connor Reilly was given Sam Warning's slot on the first left wing with Rau and Fasching, Sam now is trying to fill the departed Tom Serratore's slot on what was last year's third line featuring Boyd/Ambroz. Both Warning and Boyd have speed that wreck havoc while Ambroz's size and vision open things.
Vinni Lettieri got the opening chance on a line with fellow sophomores Taylor Cammarata (New York Islanders) and Justin Kloos and had several chances.
The X factor in all this is Bristedt. Lucia used the Stockholm, Sweden native in all even strength situations. He played with all three lines and in all three positions. (At one point he was with Kloos and Warning.) Part of that had to do with his situation - Bristedt can't play in the Ice Breaker due to an NCAA decision. At the same time, he looked in place; especially on a line with Boyd and Ambroz. Lucia said after the game that he would prefer to have him on the left wing, which would work on a line with the two.
My guess is with Bristedt out of the Ice Breaker that the top-nine stays the way it started Saturday with Connor Reilly on the first line and Lettieri playing with Camamrata and Kloos. That could change as soon as October 24 against Bemidji State, though.
-Defense also had several different pairs. Jake Bischoff (New York Islanders) and Ben Marshall (Detroit Red Wings) were consistent for the better part of two periods before Michael Brodzinski (San Jose Sharks) had the chance there in the third. Brodzinski almost played with everyone, including freshman Steve Johnson (Los Angeles Kings) and Mike Reilly. Glover and Ryan Collins were given the first chances to be paired with Reilly and Brady Skjei, respectively.
Finding where the five underclassmen fit with Marshall, Mike Reilly (Columbus Blue Jackets) and Brady Skjei (New York Rangers) is going to be ongoing throughout the first half of the season. There are eight players for six spots.
-By numbers & my bad eyes:
Different PP units: 22-7-24 13-6* & 10-21; 26-18-19 2-21; 5-13 together 22-7-17 (same except for Lettieri in the middle for 3rd P); 11-25-17, 20-10
*Also had Mike Reilly with this one, which was the first PP last season. At the very least, 4 forwards and 1 defenseman may be the norm.
Different PK units: 15-26, 5-3 (#4 in box) 17-11, 6-2; (#26 in box) 17-7, 20-4; 22-15, 10-4; (#20 in the box) 22-17, 2-5
4x4 play: 11-25, 28-10; 25-19, 6-4;
-3 Stars: 1) Rau 2) Glover 3) Isackson
They said it:
Lucia on tonight's game: "It was what I expected with the scramble in the first period. You have to get the shinny hockey out of it. I did think we got better as the game went on. I kind of like the fact that Adam had the most work in the first period, but as I told the guys 'this isn't the same team we faced last year. It's a brand new team.'You got to fine tune some roles for guys, some new linemates."
More Lucia: "It was a good tuneup for us."
Lucia on freshmen: "They fit in, but again they're not necessarily going to be put in that front line role. We need to find some complementary guys that fit. They don't need to be leading scorers, they don't need to be front line defensemen. We have some of that right now."
Rau on his goals: "Two lucky ones. Two fortunate goals, we'll try to see and open up the offense."
Rau on playing with Connor Reilly: "I'm looking forward to seeing Connor, another year more comfortable with his knee. And Leon's a hell of a player so he's fun to watch too. That was (Connor's) first summer in two, three years with his leg. He's getting more comfortable every day in his leg and you can definitely see it. He's getting more confident so hopefully it will continue like that. "
Boyd on his goal: "I got nothing else to say other than that he made a great play. He made it real easy for me so I'd be happy if I had 20 more of those this year."
Boyd on Rau's second goal: "We got a little sluggish there in the second, but (the goal) kickstarted us. It kind of woke us up. That's another thing a captain's supposed to do, get us going. And he did a great job of it tonight."
Boyd on Bristedt & the freshmen: "Leon's a real skilled guy, really crafty, great hands, good shot. All the freshmen have skills that can be used this year for our team. I think what needs to happen is for a freshman to grow like normal. They're young and they made a couple mistakes out there. They need some time to learn our system and learn how to play it, but other than that the freshmen are moving along well and progressing along as usual.
Nathan Wells is a college hockey columnist for SB Nation. You can also follow him on Twitter -- Follow @gopherstate