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Gopher Hockey Notebook: Weekend recap, Lettieri to center and more

Tidbits from the weekend.

Matt Christians/SBN College Hockey

Finally getting a chance to write some post-Duluth tidbits. In case you missed Minnesota's 3-0 loss Saturday to drop to 0-3 on the year, click on the link for my recap for the Minneapolis Star Tribune. A change of venue and new lines did not do much to change the Gophers' struggling offense. Those new lines lasted all of a period and two shots on goal before being replaced.

In Columbus last weekend, the top-ranked Gopher women gave up a goal for the first time all season. Despite ending "the year of 40-odd shutouts", Minnesota moved to 6-0-0 on the season with a two-game sweep over Ohio State. Hannah Brandt and Sarah Potomak were both honored by the WCHA for their efforts. Brandt finished with 8 points, including her second hat trick of the season in Saturday's 11-2 win.

She also given a John Buccigross shout-out, which may or may not be an unofficial award in #cawlidgehawkey.

Potomak earned her second straight WCHA Rookie of the Week award after leading the country with 8 assists (four in each game). She's yet to be held pointless in her collegiate career. Yes, Minnesota is averaging an obscenely high 7.17 goals per game at the moment, but 13 points in the last three games is remarkable nonetheless. Potomak is tied with reigning Patty Kazmaier winner Alex Carpenter (BC) with the most points (17) in college hockey.

The other previous bit of news over the weekend was that the Gopher men will represent the Big Ten and open the 2017-18 season in Duluth as part of the Ice Breaker Tournament.  Minnesota will play the NCHC Bulldogs (again) first. Depending on the result, the team will either face Michigan Tech (WCHA) or Union (ECAC).

Honestly, there's not a bad match-up in the bunch.

Vinni Lettieri to stay at center

Another reason Minnesota went back to its original lines during Saturday's loss was match-ups. Being on the road for the first time, the Gophers did not have last change and UMD took advantage matching early.

One change that will stick for this weekend's series against Northeastern is junior Vinni Lettieri moving to center. Lettieri began Saturday's game centering Brent Gates Jr. and Leon Bristedt. He finished with Taylor Cammarata and Tyler Sheehy, moving the latter to right wing.

With three freshmen beginning the year playing center, there are adjustments to the college game. Players are bigger and faster.

"Tommy (Novak) is going through some of the growing pains of being an 18 year-old center playing against top-end guys. That isn't an easy matchup," head coach Don Lucia said after Saturday's game. "We moved Vinni to the middle. I thought Vinni looked good in the middle and we'll probably keep him there now.

"We're getting good play from a couple groups, but now we have to finish off those chances."

Casey Mittelstadt playing with the US NTDP U-18 team

Minnesota recruit Casey Mittelstadt (Eden Prairie, MN) has been dominating the Upper Midwest HS Elite League this season. The 5'11", 195 lbs junior forward has 30 points (13G-17A) in 16 games, good for second-most in the league despite missing two games.

Mittelstadt, who plays HS hockey for Eden Prairie, got the opportunity this past weekend to sub for the United States Under-18 team in exhibition games against Boston University and Dartmouth. As the second-youngest player in the lineup, Mittelstadt was able to make the most of his national opportunity, showing his finishing ability with a goal against the Terriers. He went pointless the next night.

Our own Jeff Cox covered the BU game and wrote about every player, including fellow Gopher D commit Ryan Lindgren (go read the piece for his thoughts there). Here's what he wrote about Mittelstadt:

Casey MittelstadtLW, 5-11/195, Eden Prairie, Minn. (Minnesota) - Playing up with the NTDP this weekend, it was a big jump up from the Upper Midwest Elite League that he had been tearing up this fall. He was one of my favorite players at Select 17s this summer. He's a late '98 so he's not eligible for the 2016 draft. He looked out of place on a few shifts, but he had his moments, including a nice finish on a breakaway goal.

Mittelstadt misses the cut-off for the 2016 NHL Draft by two months. As a junior in high school the earliest he could play for the Gophers without accelerating - finishing his junior and senior years of HS together - is 2017-18. Mittelstadt accelerating to join next fall is a possibility currently on the table, sources have told SB Nation College Hockey.

No Big Ten-Hockey East Challenge

Several people have asked about whether or not there is a Big Ten-Hockey East Challenge this season. The challenge has been a low-key event during the opening month of each of the past two seasons when non-conference  . Hockey East won the inaugural 2013 run. Big Ten returned the favor last season to tie the series at one.

That is where it will stand, however. The two conferences aren't doing one this year, retiring the challenge into the big trophy in the sky so it can go play with the DQ and Mason Cups.

If the challenge did exist, the Big Ten would currently be trailing. Hockey East is 4-1-1 through the six games played between both conferences. Penn State holds the only win, defeating Notre Dame on Saturday at Pegula Arena.

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Nathan Wells is a college hockey columnist for SB Nation mostly covering both the University of Minnesota and Big Ten. You can also follow him on Twitter --