Gophers’ offensive prowess on display in Buffalo

by Adam Fink

It wasn’t just a skate around for Minnesota’s men’s hockey team on Wednesday.

While the Frozen Four’s other three teams – New Hampshire, Cornell and Michigan – took their 45-minute practice as an opportunity to tie their skates, get some exercise and loosen up before today’s semifinal games, the Gophers were serious and focused during their time on the NHL-sized rink at the HSBC Arena.

Minnesota (26-8-9) went hard during its entire practice, working on three-on-none rushes, the power play, peppering goaltenders Justin Johnson and Travis Weber and practicing its offensive systems the team will count on heavily against Michigan (30-9-3) tonight at 5 p.m.

“It felt like a normal Wednesday practice,” captain Grant Potulny said. “The success of the team comes from our forwards. When they do well, the team does well.”

Honing the offense is important to Minnesota’s success. It is the team’s strongest unit and the main reason the Gophers have come this far.

Minnesota is the highest scoring team in the Frozen Four, averaging 4.2 goals per game. Led by Thomas Vanek (58 points) and Troy Riddle (50), the Gophers have used their depth and skill at forward to simply overwhelm opponents. Minnesota scored 16 goals in its two NCAA regional games.

The Wolverines average 3.9 goals per game and also rely on their offense, despite the solid play of freshman goaltender Al Montoya.

And if the two teams’ previous meeting in the College Hockey Showcase – a 3-1 Michigan win – is any indication, today’s semifinal could be a low-scoring affair.

“I saw a lot of their tendencies,” Montoya said. “That will help us know what they will try to do offensively.”

Whether it is an offensive- or defensive-minded game, Minnesota hopes the preparation and comfort level shown by the entire team will lead the Gophers to a Friday practice and a spot in the national title game.

“We have to grind it out day in and day out,” Paul Martin said. “We can’t take a day off. This starts from our offense.”

Lineup set, Weber starting

Minnesota’s lineup will consist of some experience and some rookies spread throughout the line chart.

Ten Gophers who played in last year’s Frozen Four in St. Paul will likely see action again. But nine skaters will mark their debut in the semifinals.

Junior Joey Martin and sophomores Jerrid Reinholz and Garrett Smaagaard will play against the Wolverines. In addition, freshmen Thomas Vanek, Tyler Hirsch, Gino Guyer, Andy Sertich and Chris Harrington will play.

As for the goaltender, coach Don Lucia ended speculation by naming Weber his starting goalie.

“Travis has earned the right to start,” Lucia said. “He is our number one goalie and if he hadn’t been injured, he would have continued to play to this point.”

The sophomore has a saves percentage of .898 while allowing 2.58 goals per game.

Martin an All-American

Paul Martin was heading out to practice when assistant coach Mike Guentzel patted him on the back. A few moments later, the defenseman found out why from assistant coach Bob Motzko: Martin was named to the second-team West All-American squad on Wednesday.

The junior tallied 39 points for the season while playing in all 43 games.

“It’s a great honor,” the native of Elk River said. “(But) it’s not necessarily something I set out to accomplish.”

Adam Fink covers men’s hockey and welcomes comments at [email protected]