Hockey searches

by Tim Nichols

Although they are not WCHA opponents, this weekend’s Gophers men’s hockey games won’t be any less important.
Michigan and Michigan State will be in town for the College Hockey Showcase. The Gophers face the Wolverines on Friday at 7 p.m. and the Spartans on Sunday at 2 p.m.
These games will be critical when selections are made for the NCAA tournament, and considering that North Dakota and Colorado College are ranked 1-2 in the nation, the Gophers’ chances of winning the conference title and an automatic bid are slim.
“These games are very important for later on in the season,” Nate Miller said. “It’s also good because it gauges how good you are.”
Minnesota could be in for a rough weekend. Michigan and Michigan State are No. 4 and No. 8 in the country, respectively.
“Have you seen the size of Michigan State’s defensemen?” coach Doug Woog asked. “Geez, they’re huge.”
The Spartans blueliners, led by 6-foot-1, 211-pound Chris Bogas and 6-foot-1, 202-pound Jeff Kozakowski, are among the biggest and best in the nation.
Michigan State’s style is very similar to Alaska-Anchorage and Wisconsin — they all work for a one-goal lead and hold on for dear life.
The Wolverines, on the other hand, have the depth and talent to take on any team in the nation. Led by wingers Mike Comrie and Mark Kosick, Michigan is stacked heading into Minnesota.
The Wolverines will also have history on their side — Minnesota hasn’t beaten Michigan since Nov. 25, 1995.
“It’s very important for the rankings and getting invited to the NCAA tournament,” defenseman Dylan Mills said. “It’s also extremely important because it’s a rivalry.”
The Gophers’ hopes for starting a new postseason streak — Minnesota had gone to the NCAA tournament every year since Woog took over until last season — are on the line. But Minnesota’s major concern is a recent bout with inconsistency.
“It’s the fact that we’re not all quite on the same page,” Mills said. “If one part of the team — the defense, forwards or the goalie — doesn’t play well, than the rest of the team doesn’t play that well. It takes a team effort. As soon as our team all works together, we’ll be a lot more consistent.”
They will need to consistent efforts to defeat these CCHA powerhouses. Minnesota not only needs this win for itself, but also for the pollsters.
“Every game you play seems to have playoff consequences,” Woog said. “You have to know that only one team is going to win the league, so every game will have more playoff ramifications than league ramifications.”
Adventures in Goaltending, Part two
With the departure of Willy Marvin, freshman goaltender Ryan Westrum will be thrown into the back-up goaltending position.
Westrum started the season not even practicing with the team — behind Willy Marvin and proposition 48 casualty Mark Birmingham.
“I’ve practiced hard everyday, and I’m just excited to sit on the bench,” Westrum said. “It’s always been my dream to wear the `M.’ You’ve always got to be ready.”
This weekend, however, he won’t be the only goalie on the bench.
Freshman Rob LaRue, who was last seen playing first base and tight end for other Gophers teams, will be dressed as a goaltender for this weekend’s games.
The Minnetonka native is currently on scholarship to play football, but played goaltender in high school. He was an honorable mention all-state goaltender, posting a 35-12-2 record with a 2.80 goals against average.