Following sweep, players question team’s heart

by Lou Raguse

Going into the weekend series against North Dakota, Minnesota’s men’s hockey team was looking forward to one of college hockey’s greatest rivalries. Minnesota defeated the Sioux in eight of their last 10 meetings and was previously unscathed at North Dakota’s heralded Ralph Engelstad Arena.

But for the second time this season, the Gophers were swept by a top league opponent.

After Friday’s blowout loss, many Minnesota players keyed the blame on a lack of effort and a lack of heart.

“Either we’re not that good or we don’t have any heart,” senior captain Grant Potulny said. “Either way, you can’t win any games (playing) like that.”

Sophomore Tyler Hirsch echoed Potulny’s thoughts.

“I think our egos are blocking our hearts,” Hirsch said.

Whether overconfidence or lack of effort is the cause of Minnesota’s troubles, the Gophers realize that without putting together 60 minutes of consistent play, they will not be able to skate equally with a top foe.

The Gophers had flashes of promise in the series, such as out-shooting the Sioux 18-7 in the second period Friday.

“We got ourselves back into it in the second period, then right away in the third we get a turnover, (North Dakota) scores and game over,” coach Don Lucia said.

Lucia suggested that moving some players out of the lineup might serve as a wakeup call. Instead, Lucia jumbled the existing lines and thought, as a result, his players worked harder and were more balanced Saturday.

But the more balanced Minnesota team was still outperformed by the Sioux, who with the sweep showed why they are the No. 2 team in the nation.

“All I know is that the team in the other locker room wanted it a lot more than we did (Friday),” Potulny said.

Lucia hopes when his injured defensemen, Keith Ballard and Chris Harrington, return to the lineup, the Gophers will work out of their funk. Lucia said missing the team’s best offensive blue-liners gave some players more minutes than they are accustomed to – the overexposure possibly leading to more mistakes.

Regardless, Hirsch noted that it should not take this long for the Gophers to come out of their shell.

“The good thing is, when we come out of this, we’re going to come out of it together,” Hirsch said. “We are a team full of guys that really care for each other.”

The two teams meet again at Mariucci Arena on Jan. 23-24. By then, if Minnesota doesn’t have things turned around, the Gophers fear it might be too late.

“You have to win games against the higher-end teams,” Potulny said. “Otherwise, first of all, you’re never going to catch them, and second of all, you’re not going to have the power rankings to get anywhere at the end of the season.”

Governors’ bet

Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty and North Dakota Gov. John Hoeven attended Saturday’s game and on the ice beforehand announced a friendly bet.

With the Gophers’ loss, Pawlenty will wear a Sioux jersey at the Capitol on Nov. 26, the day before his Thanksgiving birthday.

Attendance marks

Friday’s attendance at Ralph Engelstad Arena was announced as 11,875, the second-highest in the arena’s history. Saturday’s crowd of 11,986 topped that mark.

Engelstad’s highest attendance mark occurred Feb. 9, 2002, when the Gophers and Sioux played before 12,189 fans.