Denver series is pivotal for Minn.

The Gophers are in danger of missing the NCAA Tournament at 12-12-6 this season.

Brian Deutsch

The Minnesota men’s hockey team is guaranteed one trip to Denver this season.

If they want to make it back there for a second time – when the NCAA Championships are held there next April – the Gophers are going to have find a way to win.

The first chance to turn things around comes tonight, when Minnesota (12-12-6 overall, 6-10-4 Western Collegiate Hockey Association) takes on a vulnerable Pioneers squad that was swept last weekend by Minnesota State.

Denver (18-8-0, 12-6-0) didn’t have forward Brock Trotter for that series, and it appears the Pioneers will be without him again this weekend, although the team isn’t saying why their leading scorer has been absent.

Even without Trotter, the series should be worthwhile, according to senior defenseman Derek Peltier.

“It should be a real good weekend, both teams probably will give each other their best games,” Peltier said. “It’s a big weekend for both teams.”

But Denver has something going for it that Minnesota doesn’t – a current spot in the top-16 of the Pairwise Rankings.

If the season were to end today, Minnesota would not make the national tournament for the first time in eight years and just the second time ever under Lucia. The first came in Lucia’s inaugural season when the team lost both of its games at the WCHA Final Five and finished the season one game over .500.

“We’re running out of time. We only have eight games left in the regular season,” Peltier said. “Right now, we (don’t have) home ice in the league, and if the NCAAs were to start today we wouldn’t be in that. The next few games are going to be big for us and we need to get points every night, now.”

Focusing is the way to do that, according to senior forward Evan Kaufmann.

“As we come down the home stretch, we just have to show up to the rink focused for games, and even practice,” Kaufmann said. “We do have enough talent on this team that if we work hard, we can play with anyone in the country.”

Kaufmann added that focus isn’t a constant obstacle for the Gophers; the lapses just come in short spurts that end up costing Minnesota.

In its last eight games, Minnesota’s performance has been disappointing.

That span includes just one win, only one game (a 4-4 overtime tie with St. Cloud) where the Gophers scored more than two goals and only six WCHA points out of a possible 36.

“We’ve got to get some wins. As well as we have played in the last month, we haven’t been rewarded,” coach Don Lucia said. “We have our one win in the league and we have all of these ties, but we have to get some wins if we are going to move up in the standings.”