Ballard expected to skate in weekend series with Tech

Lou Raguse

It’s been a long time since Gophers fans have seen No. 13 on the ice, but this weekend, they might get their chance when defenseman Keith Ballard laces up his skates for Minnesota’s (2-7-1, 1-6-1 WCHA) men’s hockey series against Michigan Tech (2-5-3, 0-4-2) at Mariucci Arena.

Ballard sprained his left knee Oct. 24 against Minnesota-Duluth and missed the next seven games.

With Minnesota’s full defensive corps finally healthy, the Gophers are optimistic going into the series.

Although Michigan Tech is last in the WCHA and, on paper, is Minnesota’s best chance to earn four league points, the Gophers are aware that their own record isn’t much better.

“There’s no series you know you can come out of with four points,” coach Don Lucia said. “I think the one thing we understand is that no matter who you play or where you play, if you don’t play hard, you’re not going to give yourself a chance to win.”

Ballard said that against Michigan Tech, the Gophers must take care of what they can control. It’s one thing if Minnesota does not play well, but like last weekend against Wisconsin, sometimes the team can do everything right only to have a few bounces that don’t go its way to cost the win.

Lucia agreed and noted the effort shown against the Badgers. Minnesota should turn things around soon.

“We did earn scoring chances,” Lucia said. “We had 29 to their 13, and that’s the most I’ve counted in a game in a long time for us.”

Sophomore Gino Guyer, who made many good plays against the Badgers, was also able to have positives come out of the weekend.

“We had great one-on-one battles, we outshot them both nights and had more scoring chances than them both nights,” Guyer said. “It was a positive weekend even though it didn’t show up in the standings.”

The Gophers getting closer to full strength meant more to work on this week.

On Wednesday, Lucia started practice 30 minutes early so the Gophers could work on their power play. With Ballard back in the picture, Lucia jumbled specialty teams and lineups again.

After filling in for Ballard on the blue line, sophomore Andy Sertich moved back to his usual position at forward.

Ballard was in front during much of Wednesday’s conditioning drills and looked especially sharp during shooting drills Thursday.

“I’ve been feeling good the last few days,” Ballard said. “It’s tough being away from the ice, but I’ve spent a lot of time conditioning, just getting my legs back.”

Forward Thomas Vanek, who scored four goals in last weekend’s series, skated with Matt Koalska and Garrett Smaagaard in practice.

Sertich’s line included Danny Irmen and Tyler Hirsch, Grant Potulny grouped with Troy Riddle and Guyer, and Barry Tallackson, Jon Waibel and Jake Fleming rounding out the other line.

In Michigan Tech, Minnesota faces an opponent against which it has found much past success.

The Gophers have a 14-game unbeaten streak against the Huskies and have not lost to them with Lucia as coach.

Though the Huskies are also off to a slow start this season, they boast the nation’s two top scorers. Sophomore Chris Connor and junior Colin Murphy currently each have 18 points.