Trip to last frontier could begin Gophers’ run

Adam Fink

Don Lucia doesn’t think it will be pretty, clean or even easy. But Minnesota’s men’s hockey coach finally does believe this is the breakout weekend when the Gophers face Alaska-Anchorage.

After earning two or fewer standings points in each of the past three series, Lucia thinks the eighth-ranked Gophers (12-6-7, 7-4-5 WCHA) are primed for their first sweep this weekend since earning four points Dec. 6-7 at Wisconsin.

“We can’t look back,” Lucia said. “But we are finally healthy, our lines are starting to come together and the systems are looking much better.

“A good weekend could really catapult us in the league.”

Minnesota is tied for fourth place in the conference with St. Cloud State, 10 points behind WCHA leader Colorado College.

The Gophers travel to Colorado Springs next weekend in a crucial road test. Before a trip to face the division leader, they play a series with the conference doormat.

A two-game tilt with the cellar-dwelling Seawolves (1-16-7, 0-14-6) would seem to be the answer to any struggling team’s prayers, right?

Wrong.

Despite Lucia’s hunch and the fact the Seawolves are winless in their past 23 games, two wins won’t be handed out for just showing up in Anchorage.

John Hill, Alaska-Anchorage’s second-year coach, knows Lucia’s systems from his days as an assistant when both were at Colorado College (1995-1999).

In addition, Hill knows Minnesota, where he was an assistant from 1999-2001.

“I consider him one of my best friends,” Lucia said. “Last year he gave us a tough challenge, and I expect it again this year.”

The teams faced each other in only two games last season, both in Alaska. The Seawolves forced a 3-3 tie the first night, with Minnesota winning 5-2 Saturday night.

Of the 14 meetings the Gophers have not won in series history, nine came in the city that has a population of 260,000.

Minnesota is putting history and statistics aside. In addition, the team isn’t thinking about its lack of ability to finish a game; the Gophers have allowed a goal in the final two minutes in five of their past six games.

“It’s crunch time,” defenseman P.J. Atherton said. “Our mentality is good right now. We need to move up in the league.

“We can’t waste any more time.”

Marquee matchup

There is no debate over the marquee matchup in the WCHA this weekend.

Second-place North Dakota travels to Colorado College in a series that could go a long way to determining the MacNaughton Cup winner, given to the regular season champions.

The Sioux have earned 25 points thus far, while the Tigers lead with 29.

The two teams faced each other in early January and posted a pair of 4-4 ties.

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