The recipe for Minnesota’s men’s hockey tradition is a long one.
Throw in equal parts John Mayasich and John Mariucci, sprinkle in three Hobey Baker winners and three NCAA championships and garnish with historic in-state rivalries.
The recipe for this weekend’s series between the Gophers and upstart Minnesota State is simple.
Take all those ingredients, heat them up in a large pot and throw them straight out the window.
Two years ago, Minnesota State was playing WCHA teams in exhibitions in preparation for its inaugural season.
Two years ago, the Gophers were trudging through the end of the Doug Woog era when they headed to Colorado College for a critical late-season series. Coach Don Lucia’s Tigers swept the Gophers, and went on to the NCAA Tournament. Minnesota was shocked in the opening round of the WCHA tournament against Duluth.
Both teams have been built in a hurry around the foundation of a talented young goaltender. And thanks to a 3-0 shutout of Wisconsin last weekend, the Mavericks (12-10-2,8-7-1 WCHA) and their goaltender Eric Pateman hold a one-point lead on the Gophers (11-11-2,7-7-2).
“Obviously, our goal has to be to sweep,”forward John Pohl said. With only six weekends left, we have to take care of business at home.”
With this weekend being the only meeting between the clubs this season, a sweep for either team could put the loser permanently in the rearview mirror.
“We’re running short on time this season,” Minnesota State coach Don Brose said. “If either team gets away with four points this weekend they’ll be in the driver’s seat.”
And though Minnesota is gearing up to sweep at home, where it hasn’t lost since October, Lucia said the Mavericks are an extremely dangerous foe.
“They’ve played Wisconsin, North Dakota and Colorado, and they’re 3-3 against them. They’re a good hockey team,” Lucia said.
Both teams will rely on hot goaltending, especially Minnesota State. Pateman has the ability to steal a game, regardless of the opposition’s level of play. If he’s on, it could be a long weekend for Minnesota.
“It’s kind of like having a Nolan Ryan or a Cy Young in baseball,” Brose said. “If Pateman plays like he did Saturday we have to like our chances.”
If Gophers netminder Adam Hauser can go toe to toe with Pateman and keep Minnesota afloat, the series could come down to special teams, an area where Minnesota holds a decided advantage.
“Special teams are a concern for us,” Brose said. “Our power play has steadily dropped all season. Our penalty kill has been solid, but Minnesota’s numbers are impressive.”
Those numbers weren’t helped last weekend when the Gophers managed a weekend 0-pher with the extra man on seven attempts against the Sioux last weekend.
Lucia described his power play as “disjointed” last weekend, in part due to the absence of Erik Westrum. Westrum missed a game with a WCHA suspension for kicking a Denver player two weeks ago.
But Lucia isn’t worried about the power play. He’s campaigned all season for more even-strength scoring.
“Power plays can be streaky,” Lucia said. “If we can get one a night, we’ll give ourselves a good chance to win.”
Josh Linehan covers men’s hockey and welcomes comments at [email protected]