Power play outage dims series in Houghton

by Chris Lempesis

HOUGHTON, Mich. ” Minnesota’s men’s hockey team’s power play unit consistently has been one of the best in the nation throughout the season.

In fact, the unit has been ranked first in the nation for the past five weeks. But, as of late, the unit has consistently been less than stellar.

That was again evident this weekend in the Gophers’ series with Michigan Tech. The unit went just 1-for-13 with the advantage as Minnesota took three of four points.

In the Gophers’ last four games, they are just 1-for-22 on the power play. After Saturday’s 2-2 tie with the Huskies, coach Don Lucia spoke shortly, but critically, of the group.

“Our power play has got to get better,” Lucia said. “We’ll work on it this week getting ready for Denver.”

But that’s next weekend. As for this weekend, the power play failed to create a steady stream of opportunities. Sure, the unit had 14 shots on its four first-period power plays Saturday and one goal, courtesy of freshman forward ” and power-play stalwart ” Phil Kessel.

That number becomes less impressive when it’s noted that the unit got off just 10 shots on its other nine power plays on the weekend.

“You know what? I really don’t know,” Kessel said Saturday when asked about the unit’s struggles. “We’re just not getting it done out there, and you know, we need to help our team win.”

While Kessel might not have had the answer as to why the group hasn’t been getting it done lately, another power play regular ” defenseman Alex Goligoski ” gave a couple of possible reasons.

“We’re just not moving the puck like we should be right now,” Goligoski said. “And with (junior forward) Danny (Irmen) out, we got new guys moving in. We’re still trying to find it.”

Goligoski also said he’s confident the problems can be fixed.

“That’s the least of my worries, though,” he said. “I mean, we should be fine on the power play. We’ll get back to work Monday. This just makes the Denver series that much better.”

But, not if the power play doesn’t get better.

More on Irmen and Chucko

Minnesota was without a pair of forwards, junior Danny Irmen and sophomore Kris Chucko, for the series with Michigan Tech. Both have separated shoulders suffered at Wisconsin on Jan. 28.

Lucia said it could be as late as Thursday before the team knows if either will be able to go against Denver. While it’s unknown if either will be able to return, Lucia said there is a better chance for Chucko to play next weekend than Irmen.

“It just all depends on their strength,” he said. “We’re not going to put them in there if they can get hurt. You still gotta look at the big picture.”

Attendance at Tech high

The combination of top-ranked Minnesota being in town and Winter Carnival weekend in Houghton led to two of Michigan Tech’s biggest crowds of the season this weekend.

Saturday’s announced crowd of 3,908 is the highest of the season so far for a game at John MacInnes Student Ice Arena.

That number tops Michigan Tech’s previous season high of 3,902, set during the Huskies’ Oct. 22 game with Northern Michigan. It also tops Friday’s announced crowd of 3,649, which is now the third highest of the season for Michigan Tech.