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Penalty kill crucial in series against North Dakota

The Sioux have scored eight power-play goals in their last four games.

Not many teams work the power play better than North Dakota.

The Sioux boast a league-best 23.4 percent proficiency rate on the man advantage during Western Collegiate Hockey Association play, which might be the deciding factor this weekend against Minnesota.

The Gophers (21-3-3 overall, 13-2-3 WCHA) gave up just seven goals in their past four games, but six of have come while on the penalty kill.

“We have to do a better job of getting into shooting lanes,” coach Don Lucia said. “We’re not quite in position where our bodies are between the puck and the net, and we’re letting some of those pucks get through.”

North Dakota (13-11-2, 7-9-2) blasted eight power-play goals in its last four games, including going 4-for-10 in Saturday’s game with Bemidji State.

Gophers junior defenseman Derek Peltier stressed this week that keeping cool heads and staying away from unnecessary penalties will be crucial in this matchup, even more so than usual.

“Whenever we’re playing even strength, our team matches up with any team in the country,” he said. “As long as we’re playing even strength, I feel that plays into our hands.”

Two Huskies honored

Two St. Cloud State teammates and one Denver rookie skated home with WCHA honors this week.

Huskies junior winger Andrew Gordon earned WCHA Offensive Player of the Week honors after scoring six points in a sweep of Minnesota Duluth last weekend.

“He’s a tremendous leader and workhorse,” St. Cloud State coach Bob Motzko said. “He’s a highly conditioned athlete, and he’s paid every price there is in the off-season to make himself like that.”

Joining Gordon is Huskies senior defenseman Justin Fletcher as the Defensive Player of the Week. Fletcher earned five points of his own against the Bulldogs and compiled a +5 plus/minus rating.

Motzko said the 5-foot-11, 202 pound blue-liner is one of the quietest, big-time defensemen in the conference.

“He’s got the ability to change a game from an offensive standpoint,” he said.

In Denver’s split with Minnesota, Pioneers freshman defenseman Keith Seabrook’s play solidified the Rookie of the Week honor.

He scored three points in the series, including an assist on junior forward Geoff Paukovich’s game-winning goal against the Gophers on Friday night, a 1-0 win.

Lead down to five

If there’s one team that’s taken the conference by storm since mid-November, it’s St. Cloud State.

The Huskies, standing at 2-3-1 overall on Nov. 5, ripped off a 15-game unbeaten streak (including 12 straight wins from Nov. 17 to Jan. 5) en route to a top-five national ranking and second place in the WCHA standings.

On the eve of a pivotal series with No. 5 Denver, fourth-ranked St. Cloud State – which trails the Gophers by five points in the conference standings – could conceivably end the weekend within one point of top-ranked Minnesota.

But Motzko said catching the Gophers is far less important than constantly improving team play, which he hopes will lead to home-ice advantage in the WCHA playoffs.

“We’ve stayed very consistent from a defensive standpoint and our offense continues to get a little bit better,” Motzko said. “We’ve hit a couple rough spots, and we’ve seemed to get through it quickly and gotten back on track.”

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