Minnesota looks to find its groove in Alaska

The Gophers are coming off a conference split with Minnesota State-Mankato.

Freshman goaltender Adam Wilcox grabs the puck in the game against Minnesota State on Friday at  Mariucci Arena.

Ichigo Takikawa, Daily File Photo

Freshman goaltender Adam Wilcox grabs the puck in the game against Minnesota State on Friday at Mariucci Arena.

Drew Claussen

One might think that with a 5-2 record, the Gophers would be satisfied with the way their season has started. That’s not the case.

“Our big problem right now is lacking consistency,” sophomore forward Travis Boyd said. “We’ll come out one night and play really well or even come out one period and play really well, and the next period we’re kind of struggling.”

Minnesota has a chance to add two to the win column when it makes the six-hour flight to play Alaska Anchorage this weekend. The Gophers hold a 54-19-7 all-time record against the Seawolves.

Although its record looks good, Minnesota is just 2-2 in conference games this year. The Gophers split a road series at Michigan Tech earlier this season and a home-and-home series with Minnesota State-Mankato last weekend.

“It was good and bad — we found some stuff out about our team that we may or may not have known before,” junior defenseman Nate Schmidt said. “On Saturday nights on the road, you can’t give up two points like we did.”

On Saturday, MSU-Mankato jumped ahead 2-0 in the first period and forced the Gophers to come back from multiple deficits.

“It’s a communication thing,” Schmidt said. “There were a couple situations where our forwards were coming back and the [defenseman] and the forwards were [defending] the same guy.”

Minnesota head coach Don Lucia said he was very disappointed with Saturday’s first period and the game in general.

“We had a good intense week of practice, I can tell you that,” Lucia said. “We just looked at some areas of our game that we need to get better at.”

Though few would consider the Gophers and Seawolves rivals, the two teams played four times last year, including two in the playoffs. The Gophers won every contest.

Anchorage’s signature game this season was a 3-3 tie with North Dakota at Ralph Engelstad Arena on Oct. 27. Lucia said he could tell from watching tape from that game that this year’s Anchorage team is different.

“I was really surprised how aggressive they were playing,” Lucia said. “They’ve been at home for a couple weeks, so we’ll see a rested team. We’ll see an aggressive team, and it should be a great series.

Every day they’re shuffling

Injuries have forced Lucia to mix up his lines throughout the season. That trend will continue this weekend even though Minnesota is mostly healthy.

Sam Warning will be out with the same undisclosed injury that has kept him out for the past couple of weeks.

Defenseman Ben Marshall stepped up to forward last weekend to replace Warning, but Lucia said Marshall would be moved back to the defensive corps.

“I think he brings more to our team on the backline than he does up front,” Lucia said.

Lucia said the Gophers will bring eight defensemen and 12 forwards to Alaska. That leaves them with the opportunity to play either a traditional 12-forward, six-defenseman format or with 11 forwards and seven defensemen. Minnesota has done both already this season.

Who’s in the net?

A recurring question this season for the Gophers is who will start at goalie.

Freshman Adam Wilcox played both games against the Mavericks last week and was dealt the first loss of his career Saturday. Wilcox gave up four goals on 34 shots in the loss. The previous night, he saved 23 of 25 shots and recorded the win.

Junior Michael Shibrowski has not played in a regular-season game since getting pulled at Michigan Tech on Oct. 19. He was in net when the Gophers tied the U.S.-Under 18 team in an exhibition game earlier this year.

As usual, Lucia gave no concrete answer this week on which player he would use in net.

“I thought [Wilcox] did his job last weekend,” Lucia said Wednesday. “Whether that means we’re going to play him two games this weekend, I don’t know yet.”