St. Cloud ‘nut house’ waiting for U

Tim Nichols

As the Gophers men’s hockey team prepares to take on St. Cloud State in a home-and-home series, with the first game in St. Cloud tonight, it seems as if the Gophers have been fighting two opponents: the opposition on the ice, and the WCHA scoreboard.
“There’s been a lot of (scoreboard watching) ever since Christmas,” defenseman Dylan Mills said. “First it was sweep Colorado College and challenge them for second, then it was try for third last week against Alaska-Anchorage. Now we just want home ice however we can get it.”
Minnesota (10-16-6, 8-11-3 WCHA) and the Huskies (14-13-3, 8-12-2 WCHA) are currently in sixth and seventh position, respectively, separated by just one point. Minnesota is three points behind Wisconsin and Denver for fifth place and home ice.
But has the race for a home series become more of a distraction? Has the team become so obsessed with what other teams are doing that their own mission — winning games — has become secondary?
“It could be (a distraction),” Mills said. “We need to take care of ourselves right now and control our own destiny.”
If the race for home ice isn’t distracting enough, the place affectionately dubbed “the nut house” by St. Cloud State coach Craig Dahl should suffice.
The last time Minnesota was in the National Hockey Center was on Oct. 24. It was probably the team’s most emotional game of the year, with Nate Miller scoring the game-tying goal with the goaltender pulled at 19:14. St. Cloud State’s Jason Goulet killed the comeback, however, when he beat goaltender Willy Marvin thirty seconds later.
Freshman goaltender Adam Hauser sat on the bench for that game, but the atmosphere at St. Cloud State made an impression on him.
“It was definitely a nut house, a mad house,” Hauser said. “I think it was nice to sit back and look at it the first time. Now I know what to expect when I go in there.”
Sitting alone in the crease, with more than 7,000 people screaming a certain expletive followed by “the Gophers” can indeed be a very intimidating atmosphere.
But Hauser says that a mentally-tough approach to the pressure situation will help Minnesota.
“We need to get past ourselves,” Hauser said. “It’s hard to explain. Once we get past all the attitudes of what people think of us and start playing for ourselves, I think we’ll be all right.”
Discipline will be a factor in how the series turns out, as St. Cloud State averages a mere 16.10 penalty minutes per game, second only to Alaska-Anchorage.
Capitalizing on the few power play opportunities, along with trying to get the five-on-five back on track, should be key for Minnesota.
The assemblage of Wyatt Smith, Reggie Berg and Dave Spehar on the first line might be the spark that the Gophers offense has waited for. And being back on the first line with the two best offensive players on the team is just fine with Spehar.
“It’s fun, it’s a good time,” Spehar said. “I’ve played with Wyatt a lot before, and this helps all of us.”
The Berg-Smith-Spehar line accounted for eight points last weekend and moved the puck very well in the offensive zone. The Gophers will need the play of that line to continue as they will face a hot goaltender in St. Cloud State’s Dean Weasler.
The Huskies’ freshman is fresh off back-to-back shutouts against Nebraska-Omaha last weekend.
For Minnesota to be successful, they will need their first line to continue the aggressive forechecking and puck control in the St. Cloud State zone.
And try not to get distracted by the crowd.
“I don’t think (the crowd) is that big of a deal,” Spehar said. “It’s a great rink, just like North Dakota. It’s a great place for college hockey. We just have to go out and play.”