Men’s hockey team underdogs this time

by Adam Fink

For the first time this season, Minnesota’s men’s hockey team heads into a series as the underdog.

Surging Colorado College (8-1-1, 5-0-1 WCHA) presents the biggest on-ice challenge in Minnesota’s season to date.

How the defending national champions respond to the challenge will shed light on the injury-plagued Gophers’ chances of beating top conference teams.

“This will be one of the toughest weekends in our schedule,” Gophers coach Don Lucia said. “They have speed and the skill to go along with that. It’s also an opportunity for us to shine.”

The league-leading Tigers have 11 standings points and bring the conference’s top scoring defense and best special teams unit to Minneapolis.

Conversely, Minnesota (5-2-2, 2-1-1) is still looking to define players’ roles. Obvious causes for this are injuries and youth among the lines. As expected, inconsistency has plagued the Gophers, who have spent seven of their first nine games on the road.

A consolation prize is the team will spend 12 of its next 14 games in the friendly confines of Mariucci Arena.

The Gophers will need more than a home-town crowd to neutralize Colorado College’s potent line-up.

Peter Sejna and Noah Clarke are ranked third and fourth, respectively, in scoring. And goaltender Curtis McElhinney is only allowing 2.38 goals per game.

“We have been clicking right now,” Tigers coach Scott Owens. “We have been getting production from all over the board and our goaltending has been great.”

Owens attributes his freshmen to Colorado College’s hot start out of the gate. Five Tiger freshmen rank among the top-19 rookies in the conference.

“They stepped up quickly and contributed, especially offensively,” the long-time Colorado College employee said.

On the other side of the ice, Minnesota freshman Chris Harrington said the Tigers provide a measuring stick the team needs.

It also will highlight areas the Gophers need to improve on.

“They have a lot of play-makers,” Harrington said. “We should be able to get a better sense of where we are and where we need to go.”

Weekend lineup

the Gophers lineup will take on a familiar look this weekend.

Freshmen Harrington, P.J. Atherton and Peter Kennedy will start on defense and the top-two offensive lines from last weekend will remain intact.

Due to injuries, the third and fourth line should look similar with Joey Martin seeing some time at forward.

As for goaltending, Lucia didn’t specify if Travis Weber or Justin Johnson would start Friday. The goalie for Saturday will be determined on the performance of Friday night’s stopper.

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