Gophers look for sweep to improve WCHA standing

by Josh Linehan

Minnesota and St. Cloud’s hockey teams are a lot alike.
They’re both sub-.500 in the WCHA and both need a sweep before the holiday layoff. They’re renewing one of the most spirited rivalries in college hockey with a home-and-home series this weekend.
Something’s got to give.
What exactly does give will be determined Friday night when the Gophers travel to the National Hockey Center in St. Cloud to face the Huskies.
The Gophers (6-9-1, 4-5-1 WCHA) are currently in seventh place in the WCHA — one point ahead of St. Cloud (8-8, 4-6) and Denver, which are tied for eighth.
But there’s hope for Gophers fans. A sweep this weekend could vault the Gophers into the upper half of the conference. The Gophers are only three points behind Colorado College and Minnesota State, which play each other this weekend.
Gophers captain Nate Miller said the season was too young for talk of a “must-have” series, but said four points this weekend would make a world of difference for the team.
“I hate to use the words ‘got to’ or ‘have to’ this early in the season, but a sweep would be huge, and I think that has to be our goal,” Miller said.
A sweep of the Huskies and a sweep for either team in the Colorado-Minnesota State series could vault the team into fourth place in the WCHA.
Minnesota-Duluth, only one point ahead of the Gophers, is idle this weekend.
Minnesota missed an opportunity to move up in the standings last weekend when they split with Alaska-Anchorage.
And the Gophers are well aware of the repercussions of this weekend’s series.
“If we win both games we have a really good chance to be in fourth place … It’s a great opportunity for us because it’s a team we can beat, Miller said. “It should be a fun series. They always play great up there.”
If the Gophers sweep, they’ll have to do it with only 13 forwards — just one substitute for the four lines.
Left wing Shawn Roed quit the team Wednesday, citing academic difficulties. Reports indicate Roed intends to play for Portland in the major junior Western Hockey League. In addition, sophomore forward Pat O’Leary is out for the series with a concussion he suffered last Saturday against Alaska-Anchorage.
As well as Miller, Minnesota will look to Erik Westrum to continue his stellar offensive season, along with surging John Pohl, whose 12 WCHA points leads all Gophers.

Josh Linehan covers men’s hockey and welcomes comments to [email protected]