Hello once again Jackets Cannon readers. I'm back with another weekly update on the Minnesota Golden Gophers NHL prospects. This week's Columbus Blue Jackets edition has an extra addition as the Gophers took on the Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs and Columbus draft pick Drew Olson. Although neither Jake Hansen nor Seth Ambroz played as well as last weekend, both guys still played key roles in Minnesota sweeping the defending national champion on the road.
More after the jump.
Minnesota opened WCHA play this weekend with two 5-4 victories against the Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs. Friday's game was an overtime thriller which featured a late comeback by the Gopher hockey team after Duluth with two minutes left. Saturday's game ended up being a sloppy affair where Minnesota's power play shined and their defense withstood a late Bulldog charge. Hansen, Ambroz and Olson each played in both games with Jake scoring a goal and an assist (he's now tied for fourth in all of college hockey for points with 8), Drew scoring a goal and Seth being held off the scoresheet.
The lines mostly remained the same as last week - after winning 9-0 and 6-0 it's hard to mess with chemistry - so Hansen and Ambroz remained second and third line right wingers, respectively. However Coach Lucia was forced to mix and match lines after Zach Budish (NSH) was ejected Friday night for a checking from behind penalty so both players ended up playing with Kyle Rau and Nick Bjugstad (FLA) as well.
One big difference for Minnesota this weekend compared to the Sacred Heart series was special teams. The power play (with Hansen on the first, Ambroz on the second) went 6 for 9 while the penalty kill units (Hansen playing on the first penalty kill unit and Ambroz being the token "body serving a bench minor.") went 10 for 12. Jake's goal Saturday night came on the man advantage as he scored on a slapper from the high slot to cut the Bulldog lead to 2-1 and both units did a much better job of moving the puck around and creating opportunities through space.
Despite not scoring this weekend, there were many instances where Seth Ambroz showcased his size and skill. Before Budish was sent off, Ambroz and linemates Nate Condon (COL) and Taylor Matson (VAN) spent most of their time matched up against the Minnesota Duluth first line Friday night. They looked great early on with Seth winning battles in the corners and Condon and Matson forcing turnovers but like Hansen (and most of Minnesota's forwards...it was hard to get a rhythm with all the penalties) Ambroz really shined on the power play. On multiple occasions, Ambroz was able to use his body to screen Bulldogs goalie Kenny Reiter and crash the net for other opportunities. One such screen Saturday night resulted in Nate Condon scoring on a wrister which Reiter was unable to see until it was too late.
As far as Olson goes, he scored a nice goal Friday night during a 4x4 period to tie the game at 3. Drew took advantage of the open ice and pinched in to score on a wide-open net from the high slot. Fox Sports North has footage of the goal, which can be seen here.
Unfortunately, that was pretty much the highlight for Olson. He was able to get more ice time Friday night after defensive partner Luke McManus was ejected for checking from behind (did I mention there were a lot of penalties this weekend) but despite the Bulldogs skating with five defensemen for half the game, Olson was still the low man on the totem pole. He was also on the ice when Minnesota scored the overtime winner and looked to have been the one who gave the puck away. Saturday night went better as he was on the third pairing with Freshman Derik Johnson but defensive inconsistencies seemed to plague Olson.
All in all it was a good weekend for the two Gophers players drafted by Columbus in Duluth as Minnesota took four points there for the first time since 2000. Jake Hansen continues to step up in all situations as a senior while five of his six helpers this season are primary assists. Seth Ambroz showed he can be productive without having to score with his size although it would be nice to see him get on the scoresheet.
If anyone has any questions which weren't answered, I'll be happy to answer them on here or Twitter. Next weekend Minnesota hosts the University of Vermon and I'll be there covering the team. Until then...