Power play shows drastic improvement over weekend

by C.J. Spang

Goals were plentiful for Minnesota’s men’s hockey team’s offense during its 7-1 slaughter of Wayne State on Friday. Power-play goals were not, however.

The Gophers took nine shots and were 0-for-7 on the power play Friday. That performance followed a 0-for-6 showing against Maine in their first game – an extremely sluggish start for a team that was third in the country last season on power plays, converting 22.4 percent of the time.

Sophomore forward Blake Wheeler had two goals on the night but expressed his disappointment in the power play.

“It is frustrating, especially being on the power play and not being able to put the puck in the net, but we’ll get it up to where it needs to be,” he said.

The power play was nowhere near where it needed to be Friday as Minnesota never really mustered an attack or generated a quality chance while on the advantage.

After the game, coach Don Lucia said it was something his team would definitely have to work on.

“It’s good that we generated seven five-on-five goals, but we also know that we have to find some chemistry on the power play – we have not done that yet,” he said. “So we have to figure out who the right personnel’s going to be and what setup we need to have, and obviously we haven’t found that yet.”

It was surprising how quickly Lucia’s team seemed to find that chemistry as it looked like night and day Saturday at Mariucci Arena.

The Gophers were 3-for-11 on the man advantage in the contest, taking 26 of their 50 total shots while on the man advantage.

After the game, the first thing Lucia said to reporters was, “Well, we scored a power-play goal.”

In the first period, Minnesota was 0-for-2 but was constantly peppering Warriors freshman goaltender Brett Bothwell with shots, forcing him to stand on his head for much of the first period as he kept the Gophers off the scoreboard.

But Bothwell couldn’t save his team from its undisciplined play forever and, in the second period, Minnesota converted three of five power-play chances.

Freshman forward Kyle Okposo notched two of those goals, the first thanks to an impressive individual effort as he fought his way from behind the net through the defense and in front of the net for the goal.

His second goal came as he again fought his way in front of the net, this time scoring off a backhand pass from sophomore forward Ryan Stoa.

Fellow freshman forward Jay Barriball scored the other power goal when he put home the rebound off a slap shot by freshman defenseman Erik Johnson.

Okposo said the team focused on the power play during its practice Saturday morning and again during before the game.

“Coach really wanted to get us to get our power play moving,” Okposo said. “We worked on it all week in practice and last night we just didn’t have it for some reason and tonight really focused on itÖand we were able to get a few goals on it.”

Recruiting update

Sam Lofquist, a defenseman for the U.S. National U-17 team in Ann Arbor, Mich., has verbally committed to play for Minnesota for the 2008-09 season, Lofquist said Monday.

Lofquist said he informed Lucia of his decision Oct. 5. Lofquist said he was also considering Wisconsin, North Dakota, Michigan, Harvard and Boston College.

In the end, he said, it was his lifelong love of the Gophers that made him choose Minnesota.

Lofquist, born and raised in Somerset, Wis., – where he was coached by former Gophers Scott Bjugstad and Joe Dziedzic – is currently in 10th grade but said he will be accelerating his studies.

Lofquist is listed 6-foot-1 and 170 pounds. In eight games with the U-17 team this season, he has one goal, one assist and 16 penalty minutes.

He is the third player to verbally commit to Minnesota for the 2008-09 season, joining forwards Nick Larson and Taylor Matson.

– Chris Lempesis contributed to this report.