After 26 games in five months, nothing is decided for the Minnesota men’s hockey team.
With four teams jostling for three remaining home-ice bids in the WCHA playoffs, two goalies will start for the Gophers against St. Cloud this weekend with one goal in mind: Sweep the Huskies, and Minnesota is a lock for first round home ice and it vaults higher in the NCAA Pairwise rankings.
Anything less and the Gophers risk whiplash from massive amounts of scoreboard watching.
Even though Minnesota seniors might play their last home game on Friday night, Dave Spehar says the team can only focus on the business at hand.
“We have to play hard for two nights, and whatever happens, happens,” the senior said. “But if we start watching the scoreboard, we’re in trouble.”
The Gophers will have to skate in front of two different goalies during the home-at-home series with St. Cloud. Minnesota coach Don Lucia said his goal was to choose between Erik Young and Pete Samargia for the first round of the playoffs, regardless of where Minnesota plays.
“We’ll use this week to find out who our goalie is, so we’ll play both. In our minds we have to go in thinking we won’t have Adam (Hauser) for the playoffs,” Lucia said.
Hauser, who is still out with mononucleosis, is scheduled to be out until the WCHA Final Five, should the Gophers still be skating. Young, who made his college debut last weekend against Wisconsin, and Samargia, who recently returned from knee surgery, have only three games of college experience between them.
Samargia said he was excited to play despite his recent injury and lack of ice time this season.
“The knee feels good in practice,” Samargia said. “I’m just excited to play. I’ve been waiting all year to prove I belong on this team.”
St. Cloud holds a three-point lead on Minnesota, meaning the only way the Gophers can pass the Huskies is with a sweep this weekend.
Should the teams split, Minnesota will need help from an unlikely ally — Wisconsin. The Badgers, who clinched the WCHA league championship last weekend, host a Colorado College team that is only one point in front of Minnesota.
Minnesota State has the easiest road of all four teams. The Mavericks are currently tied with St. Cloud State for third, and travel to Duluth this weekend. Call it the “win one for the Gipper” series, as both Minnesota State’s Don Brose and Duluth’s Mike Sertich are retiring at the end of this season.
Only one series is locked, with Michigan Tech already having reservations to visit league-leading Wisconsin. In fact, if Tech is swept in Denver this weekend and then by the Badgers in the first round (both distinct possibilities), Tech would set an NCAA record with 34 losses in a single season.
Meanwhile, North Dakota and Alaska-Anchorage will take the last weekend of the season off. The Sioux play host to fledgling Bemidji State, and the Seawolves are at home against in-state rivals Alaska-Fairbanks.
Josh Linehan covers men’s hockey and welcomes comments at [email protected]