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Gopher Hockey Notebook: Midway point, Hudson Fasching named 3rd Star & Much More

There is plenty of news and notes for Minnesota as the team heads into winter break 3-1 in the Big Ten.

Ryan Collins (6) is Minnesota's lone WJC camp representative.
Ryan Collins (6) is Minnesota's lone WJC camp representative.
Matt Christians/SBN College Hockey

The news doesn't stop despite the Gophers being off for a couple weeks.

Minnesota ended the first half of the year on a positive note, becoming the second team this year to beat Michigan at Yost in a 3-2 victory where Vinni Lettieri helped wipe away the self-described "embarrassment" of an 8-3 loss Friday.

Michigan became only the third team in the Lucia era to score 8 goals against Minnesota. The last time a team was able to do that was the legendary 2006 WCHA Final Five semifinal where St. Cloud State defeated the Gophers 8-7 and Ryan Potulny had four goals.

Instead of beginning a slide and eventually getting upset by Holy Cross, Minnesota responded a night later. The Gophers entered the weekend with a goal of wanting to stay ahead of the Wolverines in the Big Ten standings.

That goal was accomplished although one remains for the second half, which begins January 1-2 in the Mariucci Classic.

"Our mentality is that we need to work on playing a full weekend. One thing we liked tonight is that we played a full sixty minute," Ryan Collins said after Saturday's game. "That's a step in the right direction for us. Another step in the right direction was the third period. We always want to win or tie third periods and going into the third period it's always important to D up and get pucks out of the zone. We did that tonight."

The team also left relatively healthy. Connor Reilly and Jack Ramsey were both recipients of hits by Michigan defensemen Michael Downing and Niko Porikos that could have been major injuries. Both seem to have avoided, but the two Wolverines ended up being suspended.

In Downing's case, this is the second time he has been suspended for a hit to the head of a Gopher player. In February 2014, Downing earned a one-game suspension for a hit to the head on Sam Warning and his second consecutive game misconduct.

I covered this weekend's series in Ann Arbor for the St. Paul Pioneer Press. If you need a more thorough catch up, here are Friday and Saturday's recaps.

There's tons to read below and honestly, this is not even everything. The blog doesn't even include more detailed midseason thoughts on where Minnesota is compared to where it wants to be or jumping from 38th to 20th in the Pairwise over the past 2 weeks or Keith Ballard officially retiring last week or Glen Sonmor passing away on Monday. It is just that kind of week.

Hudson Fasching named Big Ten third star of the week

The Big Ten named Gophers junior forward Hudson Fasching the Big Ten third star of the week Tuesday.

Fasching earned his fifth career honor after scoring three goals over the weekend. The junior had two goals Friday and deflected Jake Bischoff's shot into the net Saturday. His eight goals this season are tied with linemate Leon Bristedt for the most on the team this season.

Michigan's Kyle Connor earned the conference's first star after scoring five goals against Minnesota, including being the first Wolverines freshman to score a hat trick since 2001 when he did so Friday. If there was any reason why Connor being excluded from Team USA's World Juniors roster was not ridiculous, the 2015 Winnipeg Jets first round pick put an end to it with his performance this weekend.

Penn State redshirt senior Tommy Olczyk was named the second star after recording his first career hat trick Friday. He's the sixth Nittany Lion player to earn an honor this season.

Ryan Collins off to World Juniors camp

Minnesota's lone representative on the United States under-20 World Junior preliminary 28 man roster, Ryan Collins, is in Boston participating in this week's camp.

The sophomore defenseman is one of nine at camp. Seven are expected to make the team.

Collins got a boost in making the team Monday when the Carolina Hurricanes did not release Noah Hanifin to play in the WJC. If he does end up being one of the players heading over to the 2016 World Junior Championship in Helsinki, Finland, the sophomore will miss both Mariucci Classic games.

I should have a feature on Collins and his busy December up on the website tomorrow or Thursday.

Brady Skjei called up by the New York Rangers

It appears that Skjei will be the first of the players that graduated or left early last year to play in an NHL game after Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault said that the former Gopher would be in the lineup tonight. (Mike Reilly was previously called up by the Wild, but did not appear in a game.) He will make his NHL debut against the Edmonton Oilers. If the Lakeville, MN native stays up with the team, the Rangers travel to Minnesota Thursday.

Skjei, who leads the AHL Hartford Wolf Pack in points (not bad for a defensive defenseman), was New York's first round pick in 2012. He will be the 13th University of Minnesota alum to play in the NHL this season.

Good to see Skjei get the opportunity to possibly play NHL hockey in front of his hometown friends and family. One of my favorite stories covering college hockey involves him. Following the North Dakota Frozen Four semifinal in 2014, I was interviewing Skjei about the game-winning goal (yes that one) and his defensive partner that year, Justin Holl, being the one who got the winner. Mid-sentence into a generic response, he stops, tells me to turn around, says "look Nate, we're #1" (as in Minnesota being the SC Top 10), and then we watch the ESPN highlight of the goal on the TV above us three or four times in a row.

His response after? "That's pretty cool. I can't be prouder of Justin," said still authentically in the moment.

5 Minnesota commits playing in USHL Top Prospects Game

The 40 players participating in next month's USHL Top Prospects Game in Omaha was announced Tuesday. Five of the players participating in the showcase for 2016 NHL Draft eligible players are University of Minnesota commits.

The five are forwards William Fallstrom (Omaha/Stockholm, Sweden), Rem Pitlick (Muskegon/Plymouth, MN) and Garrett Wait (Waterloo/Edina, MN), defenseman Sam Rossini (Waterloo/Inver Grove Heights, MN), and goaltender Ryan Edquist (Madison/Lakeville, MN)

All except Fallstrom have signed National Letters of Intent last month. The Swedish forward was on campus and did visit Mariucci Arena during Minnesota's series with Ohio State, however.

4 Minnesota commits playing in U-17 Four Nations Tournament

Fallstrom's teammate at Omaha and fellow Minnesota verbal commit Brannon McManus is one of three non-US National Team Development Program U-17 players to participate in the Four Nations Tournament in Puchov, Slovakia.

McManus, a native of Newport Beach, California, is fourth among USHL rookies in points. The 16 year-old left wing has 19 (9G-10A) for the Lancers. He was named the USHL rookie of the week back in October.

Three other Gopher commits, forward Scott Reedy (Prior Lake) and defensemen Nate Knoepke (Farmington, MN) and Josh Maniscalo (Perkiomenville, PA), are among the 19 players on the USNTDP roster playing on the team. The tournament runs from tomorrow (December 16) to December 20th.

All four players are 2017 NHL Draft Eligible and won't be on campus until at least 2017-18.

One for the road:

One side effect of giving up eight goals was that senior third string goalie Ryan Coyne got the chance to make his first career appearance for the final two minutes. Coyne had played in exhibition games, but was never given the chance to play

He did not have to make a save.

Still, the experience got this gem from head coach Don Lucia after Friday's game.

"I wanted to get him in. He's a senior. He's been great, guys love him. I was going to put him in earlier, but they got the power play (where Michigan scored goal #8). I wanted to get (Coyne) some action tonight.

(Adding as he is walking away) "It's usually not a good thing when three goalies play."


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 --