No cup on the line, but still a lot is at stake for Gophers

Off to one of the worst starts in program history, the team will need a pair of wins.

Brian Deutsch

The last time Michigan Tech came to town for a series at Mariucci Arena, the Gophers clinched the Western Collegiate Hockey Association’s McNaughton Cup Championship with a 3-1 win March 2.

MEN’S HOCKEY PREVIEW

WHERE: Mariucci Arena
WHEN: 7:07 p.m., tonight and 7:07 p.m. Saturday
TV: Fox Sports Net North (tape delay Friday at 10 p.m., live on Saturday)
RADIO: KTNF 950AM/KUOM 100.7 FM/106.5 FM (Fri) WCCO 830 AM (Sat)

Minnesota leads the all-time series 162-74-14

The Huskies return to Minneapolis this weekend for another series with the Minnesota men’s hockey team although it’s unlikely there will be as much celebration as last year’s affair.

Both games of the Friday/Saturday series start at 7:07 p.m. CDT at Mariucci Arena.

This year’s team is a far cry from last year’s squad that lost only one game in the first half of the season and went on to win the WCHA Final Five and participate in the NCAA tournament.

The Gophers are off to one of the worst starts in program history, and the team is only two conference losses away from tying last year’s season total.

“It’s just a matter of getting everyone on the same page and turning the ship around. It’s not that we are going in the wrong direction even, I feel like we are making progress,” freshman defenseman Cade Fairchild said. “It’s like we take 10 steps forward and then a few steps back.”

The Gophers (7-6-1 overall, 3-5-0 WCHA) might be able to take a few more steps in the right direction this weekend – they catch Michigan Tech in the midst of a five-game winless streak.

The Huskies (5-6-1, 4-5-1) split a pair of 4-2 match-ups with Wisconsin to start the streak and were swept 5-2 and 4-1 by St. Cloud State two weeks ago.

MINNESOTA

(7-6-1 overall, 3-5-0 WCHA) National Ranking: 14

Minnesota Stat
Although the team is still ranked 14th on the USCHO.com/CSTV poll, Minnesota has fallen out of the USA Today/USA Hockey poll ñ snapping a streak of 99 consecutive appearances on the poll.

PLAYERS TO WATCH
Junior forward Blake Wheeler: Wheeler is tied for the team’s lead in goals (five) and points (11). After snapping his streak of 77 consecutive games dressed last weekend against Michigan State, Wheeler returned the following night and assisted on the Gophers’ lone goal.
Freshman defenseman Cade Fairchild: Fairchild and Badgers defenseman Brendan Smith are tied for most points among WCHA freshmen defensemen with nine points each. Fairchild’s seven assists, including two last weekend, also have him tied for most on the Minnesota roster in that category.

Last weekend, Michigan Tech earned a 1-1 tie on Friday against Minnesota-Duluth before dropping a 4-1 contest to the Bulldogs the next evening.

Eight goals in five games is a lot for any net-minder, but it is especially bad for Huskies junior goalie Michael-Lee Teslak.

Teslak still is ranked second in the WCHA in goals against average (1.63) and is third in save percentage (93.9).

But this season is far removed from last year when Michigan Tech finished its schedule ranked second in the conference in scoring defense with 2.17 goals allowed each game.

Sophomore forward Ryan Flynn said the Gophers will simply try to replicate last year’s offensive performances when Minnesota scored 13 goals against the Huskies in four games.

“Last year we had some success just by getting some traffic in front of (Teslak),” Flynn said. “We had a couple low shots at his feet that made him move from side to side.”

Michigan Tech

(5-6-1 overall, 4-5-1 WCHA) National Ranking: 20

Michigan Tech Stat
While the overall record is incontrovertibly in Minnesota’s favor, the Huskies have made a second home in Mariucci Arena as of late. The team is 3-1-0 in its last four games at the venue.

PLAYERS TO WATCH
Junior goalie Michael-Lee Teslak: In a conference full of gifted goaltending, Teslak is one of the best. His 93.9 save percentage is third best in the WCHA while his 1.63 goals against average is the fifth lowest in the nation.
Senior forward Tyler Shelast: The Huskies’ leading goal-getter, Shelast has netted seven goals this season and added another two assists to tie for the team’s points lead. Shelast scored both of Michigan Tech’s goals last weekend as the team tied and lost to Minnesota-Duluth.

And while a lot has changed since the Gophers hoisted the McNaughton Cup last March, sophomore forward Kyle Okposo thinks this year’s team can still repeat the feat this year.

“We just need to come together as a team and start playing hard every night and go out and play for each other,” Okposo said. “It’s going to take quite a bit to turn it around, but I think we’ve got the guys to do it.”