Eight games against eight ranked teams.
That is exactly what faces the Golden Gophers of Minnesota (13-13-2, 8-10-2) over their final eight games of the season. The brutal closing stretch begins on Friday with a two-game series at second ranked Denver University (18-6-4, 12-4-4). Following this weekend, Minnesota will host ninth ranked Colorado College, travel to seventh ranked Minnesota-Duluth, and host the third ranked Wisconsin Badgers to close out WCHA conference play.
Minnesota enters Friday's game having not played competitively since January 30th. The Gophers had Super Bowl weekend off as they recovered from their lengthy two game road trip to Alaska. They won their first contest 7-4 in Anchorage, only to fall to the same Alaska Anchorage team 2-1 the next day. The Gophers will be boosted by the potential return of leading goal-scorer Mike Hoeffel who has been sidelined with illness since January 19th. Minnesota will also hope junior forward Jacob Cepis continues his hot streak after he has recorded a point in each of his last nine games.
Like Minnesota, Denver have not played a conference game since January 30th when they defeated WCHA foe North Dakota 4-2. Led by longtime head coach George Gwozdecky, the Pioneers are just a point behind both Minnesota-Duluth and St. Cloud State for first place in the competitive WCHA conference.
Junior goaltender Marc Cheverie has proven himself as Denver's most important player as he leads the nation with six shutouts. He also ranks second in the country with a 1.96 goals against average. On the attacking end of the ice, senior forward Rhett Rakhshani has led the Pioneers with 17 goals and 35 points.
The Pioneers have amassed a 9-2-3 record at home this season, and have beaten Minnesota in seven of their last nine meetings.
As it stands right now, these two teams would square off in a best of 3 series during the first round of the WCHA playoffs. Both teams however, will be hoping to improve their position before conference tournament play starts on March 13th. Denver will try to continue their season success against the Gophers having beaten them 3-0 in their two season meetings. Action starts live on FCS Atlantic at 9:30pm ET on Friday night.