Another series, another rivalry for Gophers

MinnesotaâÄôs streak of rivalry series comes to an end this weekend when the Wisconsin menâÄôs hockey team ventures across the border for a pair of games at Mariucci Arena. With his team two points off the pace of Denver for the Western Collegiate Hockey Association lead, Badgers coach Mike Eaves said his players are well aware of what’s at stake. âÄúEvery day the boys walk into the locker room and thereâÄôs that standings board. They walk right by it. It doesnâÄôt have to be very long that you walk by it, but you know where you stand,âÄù he said. âÄúSo a lotâÄôs at stake, and there will be two storms coming together on Friday and Saturday night for sure.âÄù Minnesota (12-7-5 overall, 9-6-3 WCHA) is reeling after losing four of its last six games, including Minnesota StateâÄôs first-ever sweep against the Gophers last weekend. âÄúNo matter what we did last weekend, itâÄôs still Wisconsin, and weâÄôre still trying to get [conference] points,âÄù Gophers coach Don Lucia said. âÄúThatâÄôs really what it boils down to.âÄù Minnesota was swept on the road by North Dakota and then went 2-2 in a home and home series with St. Cloud State and the Mavericks. So after skidding through three straight rivalry series to open the second half, Minnesota will play another one âÄî possibly the biggest one in the eyes of some players âÄî against the Badgers. But with the Gophers teetering on the edge of home ice advantage in the playoffs, should the team focus more on winning and less on the rivalry? Not so, said junior forward Ryan Stoa. âÄúI donâÄôt know if you downplay the rivalry. I think itâÄôs a big deal that the Badgers are coming to town,âÄù Stoa said. âÄúYou get up for it. It makes you hungry to play.âÄù Eaves disagrees âÄî saying as a coach his job is to make this weekendâÄôs series just like any other for his team. âÄúYou donâÄôt want to create pressure and put it back on their shoulders. As a coach, you want to try to relieve some of that,âÄù Eaves said. âÄúWeâÄôre going to go do things that we would normally do. WeâÄôre going to work hard, weâÄôre going to work smart and weâÄôre going to prepare for our next opponent.âÄù MinnesotaâÄôs sudden slump doesnâÄôt ease the anxiety for EavesâÄô Badgers, who righted their own ship after starting the season winless in their first seven games âÄî the worst start in program history. The Gophers picked up three conference points against Wisconsin earlier this year in a 2-2 tie Oct. 24 and a 5-2 win the next night. Wisconsin (14-11-3, 11-7-2) managed to turn its season around after losing only one game in November and December, so Eaves knows something about coming back from animosity. âÄúA wounded animal is always a scary thing,âÄù Eaves said. âÄúYou donâÄôt want to get somebodyâÄôs back into a corner.âÄù