Minnesota’s men’s hockey team held only seven practices before traveling to Omaha, Neb., for its first game Oct. 10 in the Maverick Stampede Tournament.
After a disappointing loss to Maine and an uneven victory over Nebraska-Omaha there, one might assume coach Don Lucia got right to work with his team this week.
However, because of an NCAA rule, the Gophers are taking four days off from practice leading into their gameless weekend.
“I don’t like it, but there’s nothing we can do,” Lucia said. “It’s a scheduling thing.”
According to the NCAA, each team has 132 days of practice and game opportunities counting back from the championship game of the conference tournament.
“If teams want to start practicing earlier in the fall, they must take more breaks throughout the season,” WCHA commissioner Bruce McLeod said.
Teams take days off for university-recognized holidays and for one segment break – a break that occurs during class time.
In past years, Minnesota took its segment break later in the season – mostly because the team’s holiday tournament was scheduled after Dec. 25 and the Gophers had no games the two weekends prior to the holiday.
This season, the holiday tournament is scheduled for Dec. 20ñ21, and Minnesota plays the Latvian national team in an exhibition game one week before.
“I’d rather have (the segment break) the way it was before, which was a week before Christmas,” senior captain Grant Potulny said. “It didn’t matter, because we went home anyway, so it was a great time for it.”
The scheduling change leaves this weekend open for the Gophers.
“It’s annoying because now is when we want continuity, and this denies us that,” Lucia said. “But that’s the way it is, and we will certainly still be further ahead when we play Duluth than we were this past weekend.”
Minnesota plays the Bulldogs at home Oct. 24-25.
The Gophers held captain’s practice each day this week and resume regular practice Friday.
“We’ve already played games, so we’re trying to stay in shape and get ready for the next weekend,” Potulny said. “But on the other hand, you can’t keep focused that long when it’s not a structured practice, so it’s kind of been a battle just to stay involved.”
Assistant captain Keith Ballard said the team has primarily been working on skating and conditioning this week in captain’s practice.
“Whether teams are on a hot streak, or whether they need that week off is yet to be seen,” Ballard said. “It’s all going to work out in the end.”
Next season, the NCAA will institute a common start date -every team will start practice Oct. 2.
Reflections on Omaha
Given some time to watch tape from last weekend’s games, Lucia said Minnesota’s performance in Omaha was just a reminder of the amount of work in store for the team.
“It just reinforced the fact that we are not the team that finished last year,” Lucia said. “This is a whole new team and we have a lot of growth to do, but we have six months to get better.”
Lucia also got a closer look at some new players and said he does not plan to experiment as much in the team’s series against Minnesota-Duluth.
“We could have easily just gone with the lines that finished last year, but I didn’t want to do that,” Lucia said. “I wanted to mix a couple freshmen in there and still kind of look at the big picture.”