Special teams on the mind of both teams as Minnesota host Michigan Tech

Gophers vs. UBC


Oct. 10, 2008 Exhibition game

Image by Matt Mead

Gophers vs. UBC 3-1 Oct. 10, 2008 Exhibition game

The top special teams unit in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association will face off with the conferenceâÄôs best-behaved team this weekend when the Minnesota menâÄôs hockey team hosts Michigan Tech. With eight power-play goals in just 19 opportunities in the last three games, the Gophers (5-0-3 overall, 4-0-2 WCHA) are getting the best of what coach Don Lucia refers to as âÄústreakyâÄù special teams. âÄúThere were periods last year we went half a dozen games in a row without a power-play goal,âÄù Lucia said Wednesday. âÄúOur special teams have been a real strong suit.âÄù But that might change this weekend when the Huskies come to Mariucci Arena. Michigan Tech (2-6-0, 1-5-0) ranks first in the conference with only 116 minutes worth of offenses called in eight games this season. ThatâÄôs just over seven penalties a game on average. But where the Huskies falter is when one of their players does find his way into the penalty box. The teamâÄôs penalty killing percentage is 79.2 âÄî tied for seventh in the 10-team conference. Meanwhile, the Gophers are ranked second in the WCHA in penalty kill with a kill rate of 92.3, trailing only Colorado College, which has given its opponents an astonishing 77 power-play opportunities. âÄúWhenever you go into a series, you want to win the special teams battle,âÄù junior forward Ryan Stoa said. âÄúThatâÄôs one of the areas of emphasis.âÄù The success Minnesota has had on special teams has helped the team climb to No. 2 in the USCHO.com/CBS College Sports Division I Men’s Poll. But itâÄôs only eight games into the season and junior forward Jay Barriball said Wednesday itâÄôs too early for rankings to matter. âÄúWe canâÄôt feel comfortable where weâÄôre at any time this season,âÄù Barriball said. âÄúWeâÄôve got to keep working at getting better every day in practice.âÄù Lucia, who said he no longer votes for rankings, agrees. âÄúThereâÄôs only one ranking that matter and thatâÄôs at the end of the year.âÄù Afternoon games Due the NABC Classic menâÄôs basketball tournament this weekend next door in Williams Arena, the Michigan Tech games will be played in a rare Saturday-Sunday afternoon series. A spokesman for the team said attendance is not expected to drop for the games âÄî both games are sold out. âÄúIâÄôm sure it will affect the attendance a little bit âÄî thereâÄôs a lot going on with football and other things,âÄù Lucia said. âÄúAt the same time, itâÄôs an opportunity for people to go to an afternoon game and have their night free.âÄù