In Stoa, Gophers have big piece of puzzle back

I will admit that I didn’t have the highest expectations for Minnesota this season, and I will take whatever I have coming to me if the Gophers turn out to be as good as they looked in stretches last weekend.

I picked them for seventh in the WCHA after going through a statistical analysis of which teams had what coming back. The Gophers lost 54.1 percent of their goalscoring and 49.2 percent of their points last season, so I figured they wouldn’t improve on the seventh-place finish of last season.

They still have 24 league games left to play, but their start to the season has me rethinking the value of those stats I pulled out before the season.

You had to be impressed by the way Ryan Stoa made his presence felt in last weekend’s series at Wisconsin. The junior captain started the Gophers’ rally from a 2-0 deficit on Friday with a second-period goal, then made a critical defensive play to keep the deficit at one in the third, setting up the late tying goal by freshman defenseman Sam Lofquist.

On Saturday, he scored twice, the first just six seconds after the opening faceoff.

Maybe he was the missing ingredient last season. He suffered a season-ending knee injury in the second game, and Minnesota flat-out struggled to score goals all year.

“He’s our best player,” Gophers coach Don Lucia said after Saturday’s game. “And you can see how good a player he is and how much we missed him last year, a guy like that. He’s not only our best player on the ice, he’s done a great job as captain. He’s very selfless. He doesn’t care if he scores. He just wants to win.”

If he scores regularly, however, chances are the Gophers will fulfill both ends of that.