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5 Reasons You Should Be Buying Minnesota

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Playing its best hockey, the Gophers enter the stretch run trying to win a regular season championship and make the NCAA Tournament.

Goaltender Eric Schierhorn (37) has a task ahead of him this weekend.
Goaltender Eric Schierhorn (37) has a task ahead of him this weekend.
Matt Christians/SBN College Hockey

It's not all gloom and doom in Dinkytown these days.

That can be easy to forget (and men's basketball being 2-14 in conference doesn't help either). The Gophers have been in and out of the opinion rankings, sitting behind two other teams in the conference and 5-8 spots back of where they sit in the Pairwise rankings. Still, the team leads the Big Ten despite having the toughest road. This weekend Minnesota will play a series against Michigan at Mariucci Arena that likely will decide the regular season.

Here are five reasons why you should be buying the Gophers this weekend and down the stretch. Or if you haven't been following the Gophers  closelyand need a primer down the stretch run, this and the companion piece "5 Reasons You Should Be Selling Minnesota" should be helpful.

1. Scoring depth: Minnesota is getting 3 lines of offense and juniors going

Minnesota's mantra all season has been that the year would be a marathon, not a sprint. With 10 freshmen and an entirely new leadership group, everyone started the year learning a new role. The coaching staff knew this year was going to be a learning curve with a younger team and that's been the case.

Unless something changes it's going to be a sad Senior Night in a couple weeks.

Gopher head coach Don Lucia said he admittedly broke up a good thing when he put a struggling Taylor Cammarata back with Justin Kloos.

So far the changes have worked. Cammarata has been scoring - or hitting crossbars, as he did twice in Columbus - and contributing.

"You obviously hope you can get all three or four lines going at the same time," assistant head coach Grant Potulny said this week. "That being said, we've had different lines step up every night. When we juggled our lines a little bit we went from being a dominant scoring two line team to having three lines that can score. It allowed us to play those guys against anybody."

The three lines have been even in scoring. Here's what they've done at even strength the last two weeks since the lines were introduced.

Cammarata-Kloos-Sheehy: 13
Reilly-Novak-Fasching: 10

Gates-Lettieri-Bristedt: 8

Confidence and being hot helps. Justin Kloos is second in the nation with 23 points since beginning his 11 game scoring streak on January 9th. Over that time he is shooting 32.3% after being a cold 9.8% leading up to the streak.

It's not just Kloos, however. For the first time this season the Gophers have spread out the offense and gotten rewarded from players that have been building over the year. Cammarata is the latest go get going with Connor Reilly, Vinni Lettieri and Hudson Fasching also forming a strong junior core. Sophomore Leon Bristedt has been consistent all season, sitting with 30 points (15G-15A). Freshman Tyler Sheehy has 11 goals.

2. Winning on the road

Following the sweep of Ohio State, the Gophers are 6-2 on the road in the Big Ten this season. Away from Mariucci Arena Minnesota is 8-6 on the season with wins at difficult venues like Yost Ice Arena (where Michigan has only lost twice), Compton Family Ice Arena (where Notre Dame is 10-3-3), Pegula (Penn State) and in Mankato. None are Olympic sized, which is important given that the Gophers will be on the road in neutral venues at the end of the season.

While the North Star College Cup did not go well with a pair of losses, Minnesota will get another chance at Xcel Energy Center. Both the Big Ten tournament and West Regional are there this season.


3. Special teams

No team in the nation has scored more goals shorthanded since January 1st than Minnesota's six. It's been a get out fo jail free card for the team. The Gophers have only allowed seven power play goals during that time (and its power play only scored eight).

It's been an aggressive play on the PK with both Kloos and Fasching playing a role in all six shorthanded goals. (Each has three.)

"All we're trying to do is try to make plays. We're pretty confident on the penalty kill. We've been there for a while," Fasching told the author after the Saturday Ohio State game. "We see our opportunities and we try to make plays when we can. Sometimes we get a little bit aggressive so we have to remember we are still killing penalties. It's fun to make those goals and get out of jail quick."

4. Eric Schierhorn in net

The freshman goaltender from Anchorage, AK has been Minnesota's best surprise of the season after coming in to replace Adam Wilcox. Committing late in January 2015, Schierhorn has taken over the net. He's put in the work on and off the ice, looking at video and working in the weight room. Minnesota would be in major trouble without his consistency early.

Schierhorn is second or third in the Big Ten in most conference stats, currently having a .912 save percentage, with three shutouts starting every game of the season. Although he has mentioned wanting to face as many shots as possible to stay sharp, the Gophers have cut down on the number of shots throughout the second half.

And Schierhorn is not afraid to get bloodied up.

(Photo by Nathan Wells)

Despite his worst game of the season happening against the Wolverines in December (it's the only time I've seen Schierhorn skate off with his head down), Schierhorn came back the next night and helped get Minnesota the win. He's been able to settle down several times since.

5. A fifth straight regular season banner is still in their control

Minnesota had never won four straight, let alone five, at any point in its long 90+ year history prior to last year.

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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 --