U hopes to continue

by Tim Nichols

The numbers don’t lie in this series.
The Gophers men’s hockey team has owned Wisconsin at home. The Badgers have not defeated the Gophers in Minnesota since 1992-1993 season, and have never won in the new Mariucci Arena.
Why has it been this way for so long?
“I wish I knew exactly so we could use it this weekend,” junior Nate Miller said. “I think it’s a big rivalry we get up for, we’ve matched-up well with them in the past.”
Apparently they match up really, really well. Beating the Badgers at home has become one of the immutable laws of Gophers hockey.
But coming off a scoring riot in Duluth, and with the way the Gophers (12-16-8 overall, 10-11-5 in the WCHA) have been inconsistent in their play this season, perhaps Minnesota should not take Wisconsin (14-17-3, 12-12-2 WCHA) for granted.
That doesn’t seem to be a problem, however.
“I think we’re smart enough, this late in the season, to know that (Minnesota-Duluth) is in ninth place and Wisconsin is in fourth,” Miller said. “We know the importance of these games.”
There is also another factor playing in Minnesota’s favor this weekend. The four seniors — Wyatt Smith, Reggie Berg, Mike Anderson and Bill Kohn — will play their final regular season games at Mariucci this weekend.
That could serve as major motivation for the weekend.
“It’s definitely been fun for us,” Anderson said. “It’s kind of exciting. I’ve had a great four years. It’ll be a special weekend, but I’m more concerned with the team getting four points in my last weekend.”
The four seniors have played great hockey recently. They accounted for 11 of the Gophers 14 goals in their sweep of the Bulldogs last weekend.
They are clicking at the right time, just in time for the playoffs.
“This is a best time for a team to come on,” Kohn said. “We feel like we’ve been making strides in the right direction, and you never know what’s going to happen in the playoffs.”
Then again, no one really knows what’s going to happen from week to week in the WCHA. One thing that is for certain, the Gophers will face the WCHA’s pick for defensive player of the week and U.S. College Hockey Online’s national defensive player of the week in Wisconsin’s Graham Melanson.
The Badgers’ sophomore goaltender stopped 38 of 40 shots in last Saturday’s 4-2 win over No. 1 North Dakota. He then followed up that performance with a 46-save game in a losing effort. Melanson currently ranks fourth in the WCHA with a 2.75 goals against average and a .906 save percentage.
But the Gophers aren’t trying to concern themselves with it, even though hot goaltenders have been a bad omen for Minnesota all season long.
“We’ve played some great goaltenders this year,” Kohn said. “Melanson will be no different. But we can’t worry about the other team’s goaltender of star players. We’re going to go out, play our game, get lot of shots on goal, work hard and hopefully we’ll beat them.”
Minnesota has wrapped up home ice for the playoffs, and it is highly improbable that it will climb any higher than fourth place after this weekend.
This series will probably determine whether the Gophers play Alaska-Anchorage or St. Cloud State. It looks like the Gophers might have to rely on the rivalry for motivation, because the regular season is all but over.
“I don’t think there is any concern,” Anderson said. “We have home ice locked up. We’re just looking to improve our game this weekend, so I don’t think there are any concerns.”