Minnesota might be back to full strength this weekend

Mark Remme

It’s been a while since the Minnesota men’s hockey team had a full bench.

The Gophers haven’t dressed 12 forwards for a game since early January because of injuries and forward Tyler Hirsch’s dismissal from the team.

But help seems to be on the way.

Coach Don Lucia said junior forwards Tom Pohl and Evan Kaufmann will be ready to suit up when Minnesota takes on Colorado College this weekend.

It’s not a moment too soon either as the Gophers are 4-4 in their past four full series while skating short-handed.

Minnesota has two pivotal series coming up with the 14th-ranked Tigers this weekend and No. 4 St. Cloud State next weekend, and having a full bench and additional fresh legs might prove essential.

“We’re coming up on a stretch here where we’re playing some pretty good teams,” senior defenseman Mike Vannelli said. “We’re going to have our best chance if we have a full lineup and everyone’s healthy.”

Kauffman missed 10 games with what he described as “something similar to stress fractures below both knees.”

“My skating feels pretty much back to normal,” Kaufmann said. “As long as I feel like I can skate the way I’m capable, I’m happy to be back in the line up.”

Huskies cut lead again

As the Gophers sat idle last weekend, they watched their seven-point cushion in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association standings dwindle to four.

St. Cloud State defeated and tied Colorado College in a home series at the National Hockey Center, picking up three points to apply pressure to the Gophers.

Things should get interesting as the two teams gear up for a home-and-home showdown on Feb. 23 and 24, which might play a significant role in who hoists the MacNaughton Cup in 2007.

Tie and tie again

Saturday night was a rare evening in the WCHA when wins and losses were hard to come by.

Not only did St. Cloud State tie Colorado College, but North Dakota tied Minnesota State, and Denver skated to a draw with Michigan Tech.

Only Wisconsin skated away with a victory Saturday – a 3-1 win over Alaska Anchorage in Madison.

That victory, coupled with a 4-0 shutout of the Seawolves on Friday night, gave the Badgers a much-needed four points with six games remaining in the regular season.

Elliott still key

Wisconsin now sits tied for sixth with Michigan Tech in the conference standings, and given the track record of senior goalie Brian Elliott, whoever ends up playing the defensively-sound Badgers in the WCHA playoffs might be in for a tough task.

Elliott notched his fourth shutout of the season – the 15th of his career – in Friday night’s 4-0 victory over the Seawolves.

Despite Wisconsin’s sub-.500 record and its less than stellar offense, the Badgers have given up a league-best 43 goals this season in conference play.

Although the Gophers in all likelihood will not face the Badgers until a potential Final Five meeting, Vannelli said he knows an underachieving Wisconsin team backed by Elliott is something most teams don’t want anything to do with in a decisive three-game, first-round series.

“A team like Wisconsin, whose season hasn’t gone the way they’d like it – they might be playing with a lot of desperation to get into the NCAA tournament,” Vannelli said. “Sometimes that’s good motivation.”