Men’s hockey opens WCHA schedule at Michigan Tech

by Adam Fink

One of the games was played in a new arena. Another series came against an unfamiliar opponent. Three other teams were conference foes. And then there was the College Hockey Showcase.

No matter the team or the venue, by last year’s Thanksgiving break, Minnesota’s men’s hockey team had compiled an impressive 11-0-2 start.

By the time the Gophers suffered their first loss, a 3-2 decision to St. Cloud State on Nov. 30, the confidence was in place for a storybook season.

After the great start, which included a 5-0-1 record in the WCHA, Minnesota went on to win the national championship.

Heading into this weekend’s WCHA opening series at Michigan Tech, coach Don Lucia and the third-ranked Gophers (1-1-1) want a similar start to last year’s title season.

“You are not going to win your league if you don’t get off to a good start,” Lucia said. “We can’t control our schedule, starting with four games on the road.”

After tying and losing at New Hampshire last weekend, the Gophers look forward to a more familiar opponent, especially one they have enjoyed success against.

During Lucia’s tenure as Minnesota’s coach, the team has never lost to the Huskies in eight games. Lucia’s teams (Gophers, Colorado College) are 16-0-2 against Michigan Tech since 1996.

Historically, Lucia has also been successful in conference openers. In the past three seasons, Minnesota is 2-0-1 in openers.

But this series won’t be one-sided. Last year, Michigan Tech held a 5-1 lead in the second game of the series in Houghton. Minnesota stormed back over the final 32 minutes, and the game ended in a tie.

The game jump-started the Gophers’ WCHA record last season and sunk the Huskies, who won only three of their next 16 games.

“Nobody wants to open up (conference play) with a loss,” Michigan Tech coach Mike Sertich said. “We want to win every game, but more importantly, we want to do the best we can, regardless of the outcome.”

Sertich said the disheartening feeling his players had after last year’s game stung for awhile.

Lucia hopes the series can get the Gophers back in the win column and wouldn’t mind not having a conference loss until after Thanksgiving.

Lineup changes

lucia hasn’t decided who will start each game, but he announced some of the lineup changes for this weekend’s series. Overall, Lucia said he plans to switch around the pairings to see how different players look together.

On defense, freshmen Peter Kennedy, Chris Harrington and P.J. Atherton will dress.

Sophomore Barry Tallackson will move to the center position, as the Gophers look for a fourth player at the position. Tallackson has played right wing in the team’s first three games.

Minnesota’s two goaltenders, Travis Weber and Justin Johnson, will each start one game of the series, though Lucia has not decided which one will start Friday. Their performance to date has impressed Lucia, especially under the circumstances they have competed in.

“They played well, considering it was on the road against a good team,” Lucia said. “I told them the expectations have been increased, and looking at their track record, we want their saves at 90 percent. We will be patient with them.”

In two games, Weber is at a .891 save percentage. Johnson is at .844 after one game against New Hampshire.

Adam Fink covers men’s hockey and welcomes comments at [email protected]