Minn. looks to stay hot vs. St. Cloud

The Gophers have lost and tied just once during the last nine games.

by Max Sanders

Last weekend, the Gophers menâÄôs hockey team sought and received its revenge against conference rival North Dakota when it took three points from the Sioux at Mariucci Arena. This weekend, Minnesota will get a chance to reassert itself as one of the stateâÄôs premier hockey programs as it plays in-state rival St. Cloud State. But the Gophers will have to do so without their most potent scorer. Mike Hoeffel , who added to his team-leading total with his 11th goal of the season in SaturdayâÄôs 5-1 win over North Dakota, was confirmed to have mononucleosis by Gophers head coach Don Lucia . The junior is expected to miss the next two series and return after the off-week, in time for the series against Denver, beginning Feb. 12. The loss of Hoeffel is the latest in a string of injuries for Minnesota. Just as they had to deal with the losses of Jay Barriball and Taylor Matson to injury, Lucia said the rest of the scorers will have to step up in HoeffelâÄôs absence. âÄúWe have to have other people contribute, just like last weekend,âÄù Lucia said. âÄúSomebody has to come through this weekend that maybe didnâÄôt score the previous couple weeks.âÄù The Gophers enter the series against St. Cloud State playing their best hockey of the season, going 7-1-1 in their past nine games. A key to the hot streak on the defensive end has been the play of junior Alex Kangas , whose 35-save effort Saturday night helped to earn him WCHA defensive player of the week honors for the second time this season. âÄúHeâÄôs had a good year. You look at his numbers, heâÄôs been solid I think all season long,âÄù Lucia said. âÄúWhen Alex is at his best, heâÄôs out on top of the crease, heâÄôs standing tall, heâÄôs got good rebound control and he seems big in the net, and thatâÄôs the way he was [against North Dakota].âÄù On the offensive side, no one has played better during the recent winning streak than junior transfer Jacob Cepis . A mainstay on the first line since his arrival, the forward has already scored four goals in just six games thus far. âÄúHeâÄôs just worked very hard in practice and off the ice [and] itâÄôs turned into success on the ice,âÄù freshman Zach Budish said. âÄúHeâÄôs scoring goals, playing physical, making plays, doing everything he needs to do. HeâÄôs just a great player and keeps getting better every day.âÄù Budish has teamed up with Cepis and sophomore Jordan Schroeder to form a first line that combines the playmaking ability of Schroeder, the goal-scoring of Cepis and the physicality of Budish to form one of the toughest lines in the WCHA conference. âÄúI think youâÄôve got a righty [Schroeder] and a lefty [Cepis] that both have a little bit of hockey sense. They look for each other, Budish gives them a big body âĦ that they need,âÄù Lucia said. âÄúHopefully they can continue to have some magic and continue to score for us.âÄù The Gophers (12-10-2 overall, 7-7-2 WCHA) will face a team on a winning streak of its own. The No. 12 Huskies (14-7-3, 9-5-2) enter the weekend 9-1-1 over its past 11 games, and Lucia knows his team has little time to revel in the previous weekendâÄôs success against the Sioux. âÄúWeâÄôve got four games, and then we have a week off,âÄù Lucia said. âÄúWe just have to continue to play like we have, be good defensively, be good on special teams and try to win a one goal game.âÄù Special teams play on both ends has helped contribute to the teamâÄôs recent hot streak. The Gophers enter this weekend having scored a power-play goal in eight straight games while also killing off 24 of their opponents last 25 power play chances. âÄúI think obviously goaltending helps with the penalty kill, and itâÄôs playing really well right now,âÄù Lucia said. âÄúNow weâÄôre hoping to get a few more pucks to the net. I think weâÄôre starting to do that and hopefully thatâÄôs going to continue because that one goal a game makes a big difference.âÄù Minnesota travels to St. Cloud for FridayâÄôs game, which will be played at 7 p.m. SaturdayâÄôs game will be held at Mariucci Arena, and will see the puck drop at 5 p.m.