UMD usurping UMN as tops in state

Austin Cumblad

The University of Minnesota has always boasted one of the top hockey programs in the country, and this season is no different.

On second thought, yes it is.

Rather than the Gophers, for decades the stateâÄôs flagship program, itâÄôs Minnesota-Duluth that arrives at Mariucci Arena this weekend 12-2-2 overall, tops in the WCHA and No. 2 in the nation. Since the Bulldogs knocked Minnesota (8-7-1 overall, 5-6-1 WCHA) out of the 2009 WCHA Final Five, which they went on to win, they are 3-1 against their longtime big brothers and in 2010-11 have thus far cemented their position as the cream of the State of HockeyâÄôs crop.

Twin Cities, your thoughts?

âÄúIt obviously makes me upset,âÄù senior captain Jay Barriball said before practice Wednesday. âÄúWeâÄôre supposed to be the top program in the state of Minnesota every year.âÄù

So far this year, that hasnâÄôt been the case, and not only compared to the Bulldogs. On a Friday night in late October, St. Cloud State hammered the Gophers, scoring five goals in two periods in a convincing win. Two days later Minnesota salvaged the split with a 2-1 win, which remains its only in-state win. The GophersâÄô southern rival, Minnesota State Mankato, swept them last weekend.

Such fits of impotence have been all too common in the first half of the season. The pair of losses to the Mavericks is just the most recent example, but it seems especially lodged in the collective mind of the Gophers.

âÄúWeâÄôve gotta find a way to win,âÄù Barriball said. âÄúNo matter what, weâÄôve gotta find a way to win games. You canâÄôt just say every weekend, âÄòWe played well, blah, blah, blah, we had a lot of shots.âÄô You know, thatâÄôs not an excuse. Good teams find a way to win games and we havenâÄôt been doing that.âÄù

Now might be a good time for Minnesota to figure it out.

After the Bulldogs and a brief holiday break, the Gophers host No. 13 Union and No. 18 Ferris State in the Mariucci Classic, then travel to No. 5 North Dakota. A first half mired in inconsistency will quickly be forgotten should Minnesota string together wins against the stiff competition waiting for them as the calender flips to 2011.

âÄúAs we move forward, the areas where we need to get better more than anything else are consistent goaltending âĦ and our special teams play, both power play and penalty kill,âÄù head coach Don Lucia said, reflecting on the first half of the season.

The GophersâÄô penalty kill is last in the WCHA, and the power play unit is fifth. Meanwhile, UMD, the highest scoring team in the league at nearly four goals per game, though not outstanding on special teams, is still plus-12 to MinnesotaâÄôs minus-4.

At Minnesota State, the Gophers were unable to score on eleven power play opportunities; the Mavericks were 2-for-8, one each night. Both games were decided by a goal. Special teams made the difference, Lucia said.

But if you ask Barriball, it shouldnâÄôt have. Senior goaltender Alex Kangas gave up three goals on Friday; junior Kent Patterson allowed two on Saturday.

âÄúThatâÄôs going to give us a chance to win every night,âÄù he said. âÄúWeâÄôve got to score some goals. We put up 50 shots, but that doesnâÄôt matter. WeâÄôve got to score goals. You canâÄôt make any excuses.âÄù