Gophers sorting out issues after sweep

Ben Goessling

Player after player streamed into Mariucci Arena on Monday afternoon with the same look on his face.

You’ve probably seen it before. It’s roughly the same one painted on a kindergartener’s mug after being summoned to the principal’s office.

And after getting swept by last-place Michigan Tech during the weekend, Minnesota’s men’s hockey team began a new week knowing it was going to pay for its lackluster performance in sweat Monday.

“(Practice) isn’t going to be a whole lot of fun this week,” captain Judd Stevens said.

The Gophers’ appointment with a square-jawed coach Don Lucia came mostly from Friday’s 6-3 loss to the Huskies, after which several players admitted the Gophers’ effort was not all there.

The team rebounded Saturday but still lost 2-1 to Michigan Tech, setting up a crucial week of practice in which seventh-ranked Minnesota must prepare for a big series with Minnesota-Duluth and figure out what led to getting swept in two consecutive home series for the first time since 1976-77.

“The most frustrating thing is that we didn’t come to play Friday night at home,” Stevens said. “A lot of guys are disappointed with their effort.”

Minnesota (18-9-0, 11-7-0 WCHA) backed itself into a corner by not taking care of business at home. Minnesota faces Minnesota-Duluth, a team that beat and tied then-No. 1 Colorado College over the weekend, and Minnesota holds just a three-point lead over Minnesota-Duluth in the standings.

From there, Minnesota visits third-ranked Wisconsin in a series that could bring an end to Minnesota’s faint WCHA title hopes.

As preparation for the pivotal stretch began, Lucia remained critical of Minnesota’s struggling offense, which has scored more than three goals just once in its last eight games. The Gophers are 3-5 in that span.

“Three of the games we’ve lost, we only gave up two goals in regulation,” he said. “That should be enough to win most nights. Saturday night, it was 2-1 (before Michigan Tech scored an empty-net goal). Some guys need to be a little bit more assertive with the puck.”

For as bleak as the weekend was, the Gophers are still third in the Pairwise Rankings – a formula that mimics the NCAA tournament selection process – and have the inside track to a top seed in the tournament.

And with the NCAA West Regional at Mariucci Arena, assistant captain Jake Fleming said Minnesota still has plenty of time to correct the season.

“Nobody wants to sit and pout all week,” Fleming said. “We have to understand the great opportunity we have. Our goal is to win out at home, and if we get to the Frozen Four, anything can happen.”

Sticks still a mystery

Nobody, from Lucia to equipment manager Harry Broadfoot, had a good explanation as to why the Gophers broke more than 10 sticks over the weekend, including seven Friday.

Many Minnesota players have switched from two-piece sticks to a composite model – the current technology favored by equipment companies Easton Sports and Mission Hockey. But after the Gophers saw several scoring chances end when sticks broke on shots or passes, Lucia said the team will revisit the issue after the season.

“There’s nothing we can do about it right now, but it’s certainly going to be addressed,” he said. “It wasn’t the blades that were breaking. It was the shafts. The one-piece sticks were breaking in the middle.”

Injury update

Lucia said he remained confident defenseman Nate Hagemo would be able to play this weekend but wasn’t sure about Alex Goligoski, who sprained his ankle Friday.

Defenseman Derek Peltier also missed practice Monday with a foot