Gophers hope to stay hot up north

Minnesota travels to Duluth to take on the Bulldogs in another big series.

Hockey vs. North Dakota

Ian Larson

Hockey vs. North Dakota

Max Sanders

On the heels of a sweep and suddenly in the hunt for home ice, the Gophers menâÄôs hockey team will have a chance to further its chase of the No. 5 conference spot against a team with a recent history of hurting Minnesota when it matters most. Minnesota-Duluth ended the GophersâÄô season in last yearâÄôs Western Collegiate Hockey Association Final Five and more recently swept Minnesota at Mariucci Arena earlier this season. The Gophers had 2-0 leads against the Bulldogs in both games earlier this season but fell in each contest. With the memory of last yearâÄôs playoff ouster looming, this current Minnesota squad is ready for some payback in Duluth. âÄúThey won the past three âĦ so weâÄôre definitely looking to get some revenge out there,âÄù sophomore Jordan Schroeder said. The Gophers enter the weekend off a sweep of then-No. 7 Colorado College; they outscored the Tigers 10-4. The dominating sweep of one of the WCHAâÄôs top teams gives Schroeder and the rest of the team confidence moving forward. âÄúAfter last weekend you canâÄôt play much better than that,âÄù Schroeder said. âÄúEveryoneâÄôs moving their feet, weâÄôre scoring goals, [Alex] Kangas is playing well; thatâÄôs what you need to win.âÄù On the opposite side, Minnesota-Duluth enters this weekend on a slump, going 2-6 over its past eight games. While the Bulldogs have struggled recently, five of those eight games were played on the road, and Gophers head coach Don Lucia knows it will be a different team the Gophers will face in Duluth. âÄúTheyâÄôre a good team. TheyâÄôve played very well at home all season long,âÄù Lucia said. âÄúIâÄôm sure theyâÄôre anxious and looking forward to getting back and playing back at home.âÄù Last weekend Minnesota scored its highest number of goals in a weekend all season. While Lucia knows his team will not likely score 10 goals each series, he does know scoring at least three goals a game is crucial to his teamâÄôs success. âÄúIf we can get to three, it gives ourselves a chance to win,âÄù Lucia said. âÄúItâÄôs not easy to win when you only score one or two goals in a night.âÄù While Mariucci boasts an Olympic-sized rink, Minnesota-DuluthâÄôs current rink is significantly smaller, meaning shots can come from anywhere on the ice and find their way to the back of the net. âÄúThings happen in a hurry, and you have to be ready for that both offensively and defensively,âÄù Lucia said. âÄúWe talked about how quickly things happen, and you have to be ready for them because you can shoot from anywhere and itâÄôs a decent shot.âÄù Minnesota-Duluth enters this weekend boasting one of the top offensive attacks in the WCHA. Four forwards for the Bulldogs have at least 32 points, led by sophomore Jack Connolly, who already has 40 points on the season. Keeping such a high-powered attack at bay will be a tough task, but Lucia is confident in his defense, particularly the tandem of Nick Leddy and David Fischer. âÄúI really like the way that those two are playing together,âÄù Lucia said. âÄúTheyâÄôre playing off each other, [and] I think that Nick has started to become a little more assertive offensively âÄî something weâÄôve tried to push him to do.âÄù The Gophers will play Minnesota-Duluth at 7 p.m. Friday, while SaturdayâÄôs game will start at 7:30 p.m. Injury Notes After missing four games due to mononucleosis, forward Mike Hoeffel returned for the series at Denver. While his minutes were limited in that series and the two games against Colorado College, Lucia said he feels the junior is fully recovered from the illness and is now back to form. âÄúI think heâÄôs back to 100 percent right now,âÄù Lucia said. âÄúI think now weâÄôre to the point where we donâÄôt have to manage his ice anymore, and that he can play as many minutes as heâÄôs capable of playing.âÄù Lucia also said forward Taylor Matson , out due to an ankle injury in the Jan. 2 game against Bowling Green, has been medically cleared to skate and could return in time for the Wisconsin series next weekend. âÄúIf he can get back to practice next week, maybe thereâÄôs a chance he can play one of the Wisconsin games and then maybe have a chance to play in the playoffs,âÄù Lucia said. âÄúWeâÄôre still probably a week away from having a pretty good indication of where heâÄôs going to be.âÄù