Line combinations shaken up for series with Badgers

Lou Raguse

This week in practice, Minnesota’s men’s hockey team came out hard, and the coaches kept it short.

“We didn’t get our warm-up slow drills like we normally get,” senior Troy Riddle said. “We got right after it this week.”

Coach Don Lucia stressed in practices the one-on-one battles and puck pursuit Minnesota has lacked so far this year.

Lucia hopes the added intensity combined with a complete shake-up of line combinations, will get the Gophers (2-6, 1-5 WCHA) on the winning track when they face Wisconsin (5-3, 2-2) on the road tonight and Saturday.

Line changes have not been out of the ordinary this season. But after last weekend’s losses to North Dakota, Lucia decided to draw up new lines and start over.

“We don’t have a first line, and we don’t have a fourth line,” Lucia said. “Guys will determine (their places) by how they play.”

The new look includes Riddle skating with Grant Potulny and Jerrid Reinholz. Thomas Vanek is grouped with Jake Fleming and Garrett Smaagaard.

The other two lines consist of Tyler Hirsch, Gino Guyer and Danny Irmen in one and Barry Tallackson, Brett MacKinnon, Matt Koalska and Jon Waibel putting time in the other.

Within that new look, Potulny hopes Minnesota will find its identity – and a couple wins – against the Badgers.

“I think this weekend is a good chance for us to get on track,” Potulny said. “We’ve had some success against them in the past, and I think it’s a team we match up pretty well with.”

Last season, Minnesota swept Wisconsin in both Madison and Minneapolis, extending the Gophers’ winning streak against the Badgers to seven games.

Wisconsin is currently on a roll, however, after sweeping Michigan Tech on the road last weekend. Currently, neither team is nationally ranked.

Lucia wants the Gophers to stay concerned with their own play rather than worry what the Badgers will do.

In the net this weekend, Lucia said, he plans to use both goaltenders, Justin Johnson and Kellen Briggs, in the same game-by-game approach.

To be successful, Johnson knows Minnesota will need more consistent play from the goalie spot regardless of each game’s different variables.

“Wisconsin is probably one of the most difficult places to play,” Johnson said. “It’s plain and simple; we both have to play better.”

And as Lucia puts it, it will take the Gophers’ team effort to get out of their slump.

“There isn’t one person in our locker room or on our staff who is the reason we are 2-6,” Lucia said. “We got there together so the only way to get out of it will be together.”

Injury report

Lucia said that defenseman Keith Ballard is still recovering from a knee sprain and will not make the Wisconsin trip.

The Gophers are more optimistic about fellow blue-liner Chris Harrington, who skated after Wednesday’s practice and also practiced with the team on Thursday wearing a medical jersey.

The worst news for Minnesota came Wednesday when the team learned freshman Ryan Potulny will miss four months and possibly take a medical redshirt that would mean his season’s end.

“He was really starting to come along, and he certainly was going to have a big impact on our team this year,” Lucia said.

Fortunately for Minnesota, Reinholz returns from injury to the lineup this weekend. The senior has not played since Oct. 25 against Minnesota-Duluth.