Five for ’15: Gophers Back to Big Ten

Ben Gotz

Starting off the new year with a third place finish at the Mariucci Classic did not seem to satisfy Kyle Rau.

"We've got to start winning games, that's for sure," the senior captain said. "It's important for us to get on a roll and start going here."

The Gophers will attempt to begin their roll in Ann Arbor this weekend, taking on the Michigan Wolverines in their second Big Ten series of the season. Before the two teams face off, here's five storylines around Gopher hockey this week:

1. No Letdown During Big Ten

Coming out of the Mariucci Classic, the Gophers remain the only ranked team in the latest USCHO poll.

But head coach Don Lucia said teams like the Wolverines are starting to heat up, pointing out that Michigan is 8-2 in the team's last 10 games.

"The Big Ten, it might be weak now but teams are starting to come along," sophomore forward Hudson Fasching said. "We kind of have some pressure on ourselves, almost, to go out and win the Big Ten."

2. Gophers (Possibly) at Full Strength

Junior defenseeman Brady Skjei returned to practice this week. Freshman forward Leon Bristedt arrived late last night from the World Juniors. For the first time in seemingly a long time, the Gophers may have their full roster available to them this weekend.

"We’re looking forward to this weekend because we’ve finally got our team back together," Rau said. "We haven’t had our full team in the lineup for a lot this year."

Freshman defenseman Ryan Collins missed Tuesday's practice and will miss Wednesday's with the flu, potentially staving off a full team reunion for at least another week. But the hope is that having the full lineup of skaters available will help increase the consistency of a team searching for it week in and week out.

"I’m just hoping that now in the second half we can develop consistency, can develop what our lines are going to look like, what our defensive pairs are going to look like, because it just seems like whether  it’s an illness, an injury, World Juniors….we’ve just haven’t had a lot of weeks where we’ve been able to say ‘this is what are team is going to look like,’" Lucia said. "That’s something we’re going to try and develop the second half of the year."

3. Fasching Reflects of Wild Weekend

Last weekend, Fasching lost Russia in the World Juniors as a part of team USA on Friday, in a game where he said the U.S. just committed too many penalties. The next day, he traveled from Canada to the U.S. and was back in his skates by the evening to play RIT with the rest of the Gophers in the third place game of the Mariucci Classic.

And at the end of the game, he delivered a game-winning assist.

"That was kind of a whirlwind," Fasching said. "I got like three hours of sleep the night before that game."

Fasching said he powered down for a quick two hour nap in between travel and rejoining the Gophers, but then he headed right back to the rink.

"I slept like a rock Saturday night, I can tell you that much," Fasching said. "I was pretty much just going on pure adrenaline and just praying I could keep my energy going."

4. Hobey Baker Fan Voting

The fan voting for college hockey's highest individual award, the Hobey Baker award, opened today. Fans can vote for the award winner here: http://www.hobeybaker.com/

Three Gophers appear on the official ballot: Rau, junior defenseman Mike Reilly and junior goaltender Adam Wilcox.

Fans can vote once every 24 hours until March 8 in the first round of voting. Fan ballots account for one percent of the total ballot in each phase of the awards process.

As of the time of this posting, Rau led all players in the voting.

5. Locker Room Message

When asked what the message in the locker room this week was, Rau gave a simple answer.

"I think just the message in the locker room right now is not to panic," Rau said.

The Gophers improved on their offensive zone time and shots last weekend, the next step to get back on track is just to put more shots in.

"We’ve got quantity, but now it’s time to get guys in front, guys tipping, guys getting rebounds, second and third chances," Rau said.