Minnesota aims to reemerge as in-state threat with home-and-home

The Gophers are 1-9 against Minnesota teams in the past two seasons.

Gophers forward Tommy Novak sneaks the puck around North Dakota on Friday, Nov. 4, 2016 at Mariucci Arena.

Chris Dang, Daily File Photo

Gophers forward Tommy Novak sneaks the puck around North Dakota on Friday, Nov. 4, 2016 at Mariucci Arena.

Drew Cove

Minnesota will look to reestablish itself as a threat in the
“state of hockey” this weekend with a home-and-home series against Minnesota
State-Mankato.

The No. 7 Gophers (4-2-2) had last weekend off but will hope to get
back on track with a pair of wins against the No. 15 Mavericks (7-4-1).

“We had good success last year when we went down to Mankato,”
said head coach Don Lucia. “We’re going to follow that same routine by heading
down there [Thursday night] after practice and getting a good skate in the
morning.”

Minnesota will play in Mankato on Friday and come back to
Minneapolis for a game Saturday night.

In the same series last season, Minnesota came out with a 4-0 win
in Mankato but lost at Mariucci Arena in overtime 3-2.

In-state matchups have stymied the Gophers in recent years, and
they have a 1-9 record against the four other programs over the past two seasons.

All five of Minnesota’s Division I collegiate hockey programs are
ranked within the top 20.

“I would say just to stick to our game,” said forward Tommy Novak.
“Really feed off of what we did against North Dakota … If everyone works hard,
and we’re all winning battles, I think we’re in a pretty good spot.”

Minnesota’s abysmal standing against other Minnesota programs has
shown no signs of changing.

The Gophers lost both games in a home-and-home series vs. St. Cloud
earlier in the season. In both games Minnesota blew either a three- or two-goal
lead.

The Mavericks just came off a weekend tie and loss to Bemidji
State and have a player, Marc Michaelis, who is a top-40 scorer.

“I’m sure [Minnesota State] is going to be hungry,” Lucia said.
“Obviously well coached … they play a good skating game, they don’t give you
much time and space, two good goaltenders and we’re going to have to play
well.”

Special teams will be a key factor in the Gophers’ success this
weekend.

Minnesota’s power play is ranked No. 5 in the nation, and in only
eight games amounts to an impressive 25.7 percent.

Forward Vinni Lettieri said that special teams are a point of
emphasis every week. Some of the team’s goals include being stingy on the
penalty kill, getting more shots on the power play and converting on roughly
one of every two extra-attacker advantages.

The Gophers will be looking to improve their non-conference
record this weekend, and to get a couple of wins against an in-state opponent,
something that has proven very difficult in recent years.

“It’s just like any other game, any other team,” Lettieri said.
“We have to bring our intensity and just do what we do best, respect everyone
and fear no one and just go out there and try to get a couple of victories out
of the weekend.”