Gophers look more like a WCHA power

Josh Linehan

Minnesota coach Don Lucia has said all season he wants his team to play its best hockey at the end of the year.
Now, the Gophers have won four in a row to pull their heads up to .500, despite playing a schedule that reads like a college hockey poll. It’s not a big stretch to say they seem poised for a second-half run.
Consider: Minnesota opened at Maine, ranked third in the country and the defending national champion. Minnesota was never down more than two goals but dropped both games.
Next up, North Dakota, the defending WCHA champion and ranked second in the country last week. The Gophers managed a tie Friday night before falling by one goal Saturday when a late rally fell short.
Minnesota next skated against Boston College, which — you guessed it — was ranked 11th in the country last week. Minnesota prevailed in overtime Friday night before falling to them Saturday.
With no rest in sight, Minnesota traveled again, this time to Colorado College, ranked 15th last week. The Gophers earned a series split.
Next was Wisconsin, ranked fourth last week. Minnesota was beaten twice; once in overtime and once with 7 seconds left in regulation.
See a pattern?
Flash ahead to the College Hockey Showcase, where Minnesota routs fifth-ranked Michigan before falling in the final to Michigan State, (which by the way, is ranked sixth).
Still later, the Gophers faced seventh-ranked Northern Michigan in the final game of the Mariucci Classic and destroyed the Wildcats, 6-2.
All in all, the Gophers have played 13 of their 22 games against eight different ranked opponents. They have defeated or tied five of the top 15 teams in the country.
What about their other games, you ask? The Gophers have played Alaska-Anchorage, which received votes in the USA Today poll, and in- state rivals Minnesota-Duluth and St. Cloud. The Gophers swept the Bulldogs and lost once to the Huskies in overtime, before skating to a tie. All of those games were hard-fought conference contests.
Put it all together and the evidence all points to one conclusion: The Gophers have played the toughest schedule in the country, with one of the youngest teams in the country, and have played .500 hockey. Simply put, the battle-tested Minnesota squad is the one team in the WCHA no one wants to see come playoff time. And with any kind of performance at all, the Gophers could sneak into the NCAA tournament.

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