Gophers hope to keep streak alive

Minnesota State-Mankato is 0-13-3 against Minnesota in their last 16 meetings.

Brian Deutsch

Losing just two games to an opponent over the course of nearly 10 years might bring the word dominance to mind, but at this point in the season the Minnesota men’s hockey team isn’t taking anything for granted.

MEN’S HOCKEY PREVIEW

WHERE: Alltel Center, Mankato
WHEN: 7:37 p.m., tonight and 7:07 p.m. Saturday
TV: Fox Sports Net North
RADIO: WCCO 830 AM

Minnesota leads the all-time series 24-2-4

The Gophers will play a home and home series with Minnesota State this weekend when the Mavericks will try to end a 16-game winless drought against Minnesota.

Friday’s contest is scheduled for a 7:37 p.m. start at the Alltel Center in Mankato while Saturday’s finale will be at Mariucci Arena with a 7:07 p.m. faceoff.

A 24-2-4 all-time record against the Mavericks might make it seem like this weekend should be a walk in the park for Minnesota, but these two Western Collegiate Hockey Association opponents have more in common than one would think.

It’s no secret that Minnesota (4-4-0 overall, 0-4-0 WCHA) has struggled on special teams, specifically being held scoreless in the team’s 21 power plays against conference foes and extending their overall drought to 30 power plays without a goal.

“They can’t worry about whether (the puck) is going to go in, they just need to continue to get scoring chances,” Gophers coach Don Lucia said. “I think we need to get into some of those areas where we need to take some punishment to score goals too.”

MINNESOTA

(4-2-0 overall, 0-2-0 WCHA)
National Ranking: 8

MINNESOTA STAT
At 14th in the USCHO.com/CSTV poll, the Gophers have been in the nation’s top 15 for 97 consecutive weeks although the team is at its lowest rank since Dec. 29, 2003. Minnesota had gone been ranked in the top 10 for 61 out of the last 62 weekly polls.

PLAYERS TO WATCH
Sophomore forward Kyle Okposo: Okposo has been kept off the score sheet since notching three points in Minnesota’s season opener. A big night from Okposo could be just what the Gophers need to pick up their first WCHA win.
Senior forward Mike Howe: With nine points in 12 career games against the Mavericks, Howe is Minnesota’s most experienced scorer against this weekend’s opponent. He’s also been a bright spot on a team that is struggling in almost all facets of the game.

Minnesota State has had struggles of its own on the advantage – scoring just one goal in 22 chances in WCHA contests.

However, the Gophers chances of ending their drought this weekend are not looking good as the Mavericks have one of the nation’s top penalty killing units. Still, freshman defense Cade Fairchild is going into the game full of optimism.

“I’m hoping (a power-play goal) will just open up the floodgates,” Fairchild said. “Hopefully next game.”

Minnesota State (3-2-1, 1-2-1) has successfully killed off 32 of 35 penalties including the last 20-consecutive disadvantages. All three of the power-play goals allowed by the Mavericks came in the second game of the season against Michigan Tech.

The two teams have also struggled to score goals during even-strength opportunities against conference opponents thus far this season.

Both teams have played four WCHA games so far and have just three conference points between them – a Mavericks’ win and tie over Alaska-Anchorage.

MINNESOTA STATE

(4-2-0, 1-1-0 WCHA) National Ranking: 7

MINNESOTA STATE STAT
Minnesota State is undefeated in its last four games with a win and a tie at Alaska-Anchorage and a pair of wins over Alabama-Huntsville. Eleven of the team’s 16 goals this season came in the sweep over the Chargers.

PLAYERS TO WATCH
Junior goalie Mike Zacharias: Zacharias has posted two shutouts in the Mavericks’ last three games and his 1.47 goals against average is ninth best in the nation. Could he be the third straight WCHA goalie to earn conference honors after playing the Gophers?
Sophomore forward Trevor Bruess: With just four career goals, Bruess might not be much of a scorer, but he makes up for it by setting up his teammates. His five points (one goal and four assists) make him Minnesota State’s leading point-getter this year.

In league games, Minnesota has only scored four goals, while the Mavericks aren’t much better with five – giving neither team a clear-cut advantage according to sophomore forward Tony Lucia.

“I don’t think we are confident to play anyone, and we don’t really want to look at any opponent as weak,” Lucia said. “We don’t have any week opponents right now, and people might look at us as weak. That may be true with the way we are playing mentally and physically.”