Men’s hockey to open WCHA season at home

Lou Raguse

Minnesota’s men’s hockey team hasn’t played a game in two weeks. Since then, the team has held only six official practices.

One might say the Gophers are trying to play a little catch-up with the rest of the WCHA.

“It kind of seems like that, but Duluth had last weekend off and so did we, so it’s going to be a fresh start for both of us,” assistant captain Keith Ballard said.

Tonight, the two-time defending national champions resume game play and open their WCHA schedule against Minnesota-Duluth.

During its segment break last week, Minnesota spent 25 to 40 minutes of conditioning each day at captain’s practice.

“That’s something you don’t see too often in captain’s practice,” Ballard said. “It’s early in the season, so we are still trying to get our legs.”

When Minnesota resumed regular practice Friday, it felt like they should be competing in a game.

“The thinking was that everyone else in the country was playing, so why not simulate back-to-back nights of going hard for a solid two hours and getting caught up that way,” Ballard said.

The last time No. 3 Minnesota faced Minnesota-Duluth, the teams split the February series. It was the Gophers’ last loss of the season as they went on to win the national championship.

Minnesota-Duluth also went on a hot streak following that series, going unbeaten in 12 of its last 16 games.

But Gophers coach Don Lucia said none of that matters now.

“We’re a different team, and they’re a little bit different team,” Lucia said. “Even though they are 0-2-1, I think that’s because of who they played and where they played their games up to now.”

The Bulldogs were ranked 15th in the preseason polls and still are despite going winless after their first three games. They fell to North Dakota and Michigan State by one goal and tied No. 1 Boston College.

“They have their No. 1 goalie back, all their defensive corp, and nine of the top 10 scorers,” Lucia said. “I think they are a team that can win our league and definitely move up in the standings from last year.”

Lucia said he probably will rotate Justin Johnson and Kellen Briggs at the goal, but he was not certain of that or any of the lines. Thomas Vanek, Troy Riddle and Ryan Potulny skated on the same line at practice Thursday.

Senior forward Matt Koalska said in order to come away from the weekend with two wins over the Bulldogs, Minnesota will have to play harder without the puck.

“Coaches stressed the past week that we’ve been having difficulty coming back and

playing defense,” Koalska said. “We’re still getting better at the little things.”

Banner to be raised

Before tonight’s game, Minnesota will unveil its 2003 national championship banner. The Gophers won the championship 5-1 over New Hampshire to cap off a 28-8-9 season.

“It’s special for the players who won it and also for the freshmen and fans,” Vanek said. “That’s the reason I came here – to win a championship.”

The banner will be the fifth to grace the Mariucci Arena rafters, along with banners from the 1974, 1976, 1979 and 2002 championship seasons.

Minnesota will honor former player and coach Herb Brooks on Saturday between the first and second periods. The arena will feature a logo on the ice with Brooks’ initials, and players will wear jersey patches with the logo.

The on-ice logo and patches will be displayed for the rest of the season.

Brooks, who died in a car accident Aug. 11, coached the Gophers to their first three national championships and is best known for coaching the 1980 “miracle on ice” U.S. Olympic hockey team to the gold medal.