Pioneers sweep Gophers in home opener

Minnesota was shut-out in consecutive games for the first time since 1930.

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Max Sanders

Don Lucia has tried everything. The Minnesota menâÄôs hockey head coach has tried putting different players on different lines, different players at different positions and even used different goalies for different games. Four games into the season, none of those changes are doing the Gophers menâÄôs hockey team any good. The No. 11 Gophers (0-3-1) were shut out 3-0 twice by No. 4 Denver (4-2-0) on Friday and Saturday at Mariucci Arena. The four-game winless streak to open the year is the longest for Minnesota in 10 years . LuciaâÄôs squad becomes the third ever in the illustrious history of Gophers hockey to get shut out in consecutive games. The last time consecutive shutouts happened against Minnesota was in January of 1930 . After SaturdayâÄôs defeat, Lucia acknowledged his team has work to do but did not cite lack of effort as a reason for the teamâÄôs early season woes. âÄúFor three straight games I think weâÄôve played pretty darn hard, and there just hasnâÄôt been reward, but thatâÄôs sports,âÄù Lucia said. âÄúYou can do the right things, but that doesnâÄôt mean youâÄôre going to win.âÄù While the season is just two weeks in, there are alarming chinks the armor of a team thought to be among the Western Collegiate Hockey AssociationâÄôs elite. None was more evident this weekend than power play. The Gophers simply could not generate scoring chances on the advantage and through four games are 0-20 on power plays. âÄúWhen your power play doesnâÄôt score goals, itâÄôs tough to win hockey games, especially in the WCHA,âÄù senior captain Tony Lucia said. âÄúWe only gave up one five-on-five goal. If we get one power play goal, we get ourselves back in the game, and I think thatâÄôs a big key to our success.âÄù The struggles at power play were only compounded by the stellar weekend of Denver goaltender Marc Cheverie . The junior continued his remarkable run against the Gophers, notching consecutive shutouts this weekend with a total of 60 saves during the two-game span. Cheverie now has three successive shutouts against the Gophers and three consecutive shutouts this season, the first coming last weekend against Ohio State. For Cheverie, the key to his shutouts and DenverâÄôs four-point weekend was neutralizing the Minnesota home-ice advantage. âÄúWe just sort of weathered the storm at the start. ThatâÄôs what we had to do âÄî just shut them down and try to take the wind out of their sails and take the crowd out of it,âÄù Cheverie said. âÄúThat was our main objective this weekend, and we did that.âÄù In taking two games from the Gophers, Denver head coach George Gwozdecky earned a career milestone: his 500th win. After the game, the Denver players gave Gwozdecky a standing ovation, and assistant coach Steve Miller presented Gwozdecky with the game puck. âÄúWeâÄôre very proud of him, and weâÄôre very happy to be a part of that,âÄù Cheverie said. For Minnesota, the team must go back to the drawing board. Sophomore Kent Patterson played the Saturday game again, stopping 23 shots while allowing three goals. Held scoreless for two straight games and three of the last four, Tony Lucia admitted there is frustration in the Gophers locker room, especially with the forwards. âÄúAs forwards, our job is to go out there and score goals,âÄù Tony Lucia said. âÄúIt definitely affects your mind, and it makes it difficult when repeatedly you get stopped and canâÄôt find the back of the net.âÄù Despite the frustrations, Tony Lucia is confident a winning team exists inside the Gophers locker room and said itâÄôs just a matter of putting the right pieces together to create a winning formula. âÄúWe got the basic frame to our team. We just need to weld some things into place; weâÄôre not that far off,âÄù Tony Lucia said. âÄúAll the answers are in our locker room. We have plenty of talent, plenty of skill; we just need to work a little bit harder.âÄù Minnesota went through SaturdayâÄôs loss without forward Jay Barriball . The senior missed the game with a hip pointer, and his return for next weekendâÄôs series is currently questionable. While Minnesota has struggled early, the Gophers have faced two of the elite teams not just in the WCHA conference but in the country to kick off the regular season. Lucia knows that while Minnesota has struggled early, it is a long season, with plenty of time left to recover. âÄúItâÄôs not time to beat on them; weâÄôve got a long season,âÄù Don Lucia said. âÄúThe reality is itâÄôs tough to get shut out, but whether you get beat 3-2 or 3-0, it really doesnâÄôt matter; a loss is a loss.âÄù Minnesota will head to practice Monday looking to rebound and prepare for the third of four straight WCHA conference opponents to open the year when it plays host to Alaska-Anchorage.