From heads down in Duluth to feeling good in Minneapolis after hearing the "Battle Hymn of the Republic" song reserved for sweeps, a lot changed this past weekend for Minnesota.
Two wins seems to do that. The Gopher men's hockey team entered the weekend series against Northeastern winless in three and shut out in two of those games. Slow starts plagued Minnesota. Quality chances dwindled. Different combinations were tried.
That isn't to say everything is fixed. It isn't. Players are still adjusting to new roles, but with 4-0 and 4-3 victories against the 1-4-0 Huskies, Minnesota out-shot and out-attempted Northeastern twice and got momentum in two different ways.
After a shutout win Friday, the Gophers (2-3-0, 0-0-0-0 Big Ten) had to scrap back and hold to a dwindling three goal lead. It was "the fun part," as head coach Don Lucia put it. Minnesota's young players spent the final period, in particular the final 5-10 minutes, drawing a line in the sand to hold on; blocking shots and holding off a late Huskies charge.
"It's just learning, teaching to the young guys, it's reinforcing stuff to the older guys. I'm trying to make sure that the older guys are able to lead and able to do things well .. and get on the same page," said Fasching.
Finding that chemistry has been a challenge early although the signs of some coming match the two victories. As Minnesota mixes and matches new combinations, Lucia appears to have stuck with one after this past weekend that has some old chemistry. Fasching, along with sophomore Leon Bristedt and freshman center Tommy Novak, were the only line that stayed together from Friday to Saturday.
"I like the chemistry. We tried to go back to some things with Leon and Hudson playing together with Kyle (Rau) last year. We put Novak in and that line has been our most consistent offensively - at least it was this weekend - generating chances," he said.
The decision paid off for the Gophers.
All three players scored over the weekend. Fasching lit the lamp three times with Bristedt and Novak getting their first of the season in different games. Novak, a native of River Falls, WI, also assisted on Fasching's goal Friday. Bristedt set Fasching up for his first goal Saturday.
"It's great. I think Novak is really skilled, he's a really smart player," said Bristedt about his linemates. "We play simple together. I really like playing with Fasching. We play simple together and I know where he's going."
That seemed to be the case Saturday. The trio were successful in creating opportunities for one another.In Saturday's first period, Minnesota was able to move the puck in Northeastern's zone. Out-attempting the Huskies 28-13 and out-shooting 17-6, Fasching, Novak and Bristedt's 9 shot attempts all came within 15 feet of the net with one exception.
As easy as it is to say scoring four goals made the first period the best of the short season, there is some truth. There hadn't been a stretch where the Gophers were able to sustain pressure. The extra pass was made. Players admittedly had a better idea where their teammate was looking to go, as was the case in Fasching's first goal.
"I really like playing with (Leon). We see the ice similar, we both like to get the puck in the corners, we both like to make cycles, make quick plays on net," Fasching said. "And Tommy has got great creativity and unbelievable hands. He's just slippery out there. So it's really a combination I really enjoying playing with."
At the very least, Minnesota enters a bye week with one group that is on the same page.
5 Quick Thoughts:
1) Obvious thought, but this weekend showed the importance of the Gophers getting off to a quick start. The opening ten minutes is important, dictating how the team plays the remaining fifty.
2) This weekend was Bristedt's best two-game stretch in college. Even before scoring his goal, Bristedt was a factor offensively and played a 200 foot game. The Stockholm native appears to be more confident this year after adjusting to North America.
3) Eric Schierhorn went five for five in stopping breakaways this weekend. Two of those were against Sam Kurker with another against one of the top NCAA players in Kevin Roy. It isn't imperative to give up so many odd-man chances, however, and the breakdowns defensively remain a work in progress. Goalies can't be expected to save every breakaway.
That said, Schierhorn is making it difficult for anyone else to get in the net.
4) Speaking of breakaways, Vinni Lettieri had a penalty shot in the second period of Saturday's game stopped by Huskies goaltender Ryan Ruck. Lettieri tried to get Ruck moving from right to left, but was unable to beat him. Jake Hansen is the last player to score on a penalty shot for Minnesota, doing so in March 2011 against Alaska-Anchorage.
5) Defensively, the team continues to fine-tune its lineup. New players enter the lineup. Old players are given new roles.
One of those players is Michael Brodzinski, who along with Jake Bischoff was heavily counted upon during the closing stretch Saturday. Minnesota shortened its bench over the final ten minutes to essentially the top-four defensemen.
"When you become a junior, guess what? It falls on your shoulders now. They are not playing behind some of the guys they played behind last year when you had a senior and a couple juniors," Lucia said. "That's the beauty of college sports. Now it's your turn and you have got to grow in those roles."
Brodzinski estimated he played 25 minutes on Friday (TOI is not a compiled stat in college hockey although his statement passes the eye test) and is happy with his currently role. He's been given the green light shooting, leading the Gophers in total shots (15) and points (5 -- 1G-4A).
"Whenever I see a lane to the net I'm going to shoot it," he said. "Even on the power play, you have Fasching there - he's huge in front of the goalie, the goalie's not going to see much - and then he's going to bury any rebound that is possible. Any time I can shoot the puck to the net I'll do it."
-The bye comes at a good time for at least one member of Minnesota's blue line to get healthy. Steve Johnson missed both games last weekend with a lower body injury suffered in practice last Wednesday. He is expected to miss between 2-4 weeks so having one of those weeks not include games helps.
Freshman Jack Sadek made his Gopher debut this weekend in Johnson's place.
-Lucia on the upcoming week off: "We have a week off and will work hard Monday through Friday, probably give (the players) Saturday and Sunday off, let them recharge a bit and then go back to work on Monday. We need this week to keep improving so we'll get a lot of reps in the next couple weeks. Hopefully we'll be ready to go for game speed in two weeks."
-Unfortunately, I was unable to cover the top-ranked Gopher women's team this weekend hosting Minnesota Duluth in the battle of the Haleys (Paige plays for UMN and Reagan for UMD). Minnesota came back from a two-goal deficit in the second period Friday - its first time trailing all season - to win 5-2 with Dani Cameranesi scoring twice in a 6-1 win Saturday.
The Gophers are a perfect 8-0-0 (6-0-0-0 WCHA) on the season. Kelly Pannek ended the weekend with six points (3G-3A) and continues to play well. She is currently on a ten-game point streak dating back to last season.
Hannah Brandt entered last weekend needing one goal to become the fourth player in Gopher history to reach 100 for her career. She remains at 99, but a 100 record did fall this weekend. Senior Milicia McMillen on Friday became the sixth defenseman in program history to reach 100 career points.
Around the rest of the Big Ten
-Michigan (3-0-1) remains unbeaten after a two-game road trip around the Capital Region of New York. Justin Selman scored his second goal of the game with the extra skater out to tie Union 5-5. The Wolverines then defeated RPI 5-2.
-Michigan State split a two game series with Lake Superior State. The Lakers won 4-2 before MSU's Jake Hildebrand made 21 saves in a 2-0 shutout win.
-Penn State swept AIC at home with 8-3 and 5-3 scores. The 4-1-0 Nittany Lions continue to score goals, leading the nation with an outrageous 5.60 goals per game. (Michigan is third with 4.75 - both these numbers will fall as the season reaches its end point.) Curtis Loik is tied for second in the nation with 10 points (3G-2A). Redshirt senior Eric Scheid made his season debut after missing the opening three games and had a goal and an assist Saturday.
-Wisconsin tied Ferris State 5-5 Friday in Big Rapids, MI before losing 2-1 on Saturday. The good news for the Badgers is that Wisconsin (0-3-3) has come back three times in the third period to tie and twice with the extra skater (Tim Davison did on Friday). Unfortunately that hasn't translated into a win for Mike Eaves' team.
Here is Ryan Evans summing up the weekend.
-Ohio State (0-6-0) stays with Wisconsin in the winless column after being swept by defending national champion Providence.
Plugs at the bottom
Yours truly went on The Pipeline Show in Edmonton to talk about the Big Ten. Thank you to Guy Flaming and Taylor Medak for having me on the show.
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 -- Follow @gopherstate