Men’s hockey set to face St. Cloud State, again

The Gophers swept the Huskies last week in the WCHA regular season finale.

by Lou Raguse

On March 5, Minnesota’s men’s hockey team won a free-wheeling 7-4 game against St. Cloud State. Then Saturday, the Gophers completed the sweep with a 4-2 win over the Huskies.

Tonight, St. Cloud State returns to Mariucci Arena for a best-of-three series against Minnesota in the first round of the WCHA playoffs.

And Gophers coach Don Lucia said he expects a closer matchup this time around.

“I don’t think you’ll see a 7-4 type of game,” Lucia said. “The 4-2 game is much more indicative of what will happen when it comes to the playoffs.”

Huskies coach Craig Dahl said he also expects a lower-scoring series, especially at his end of the ice.

Dahl said he will use junior Adam Coole in the net this weekend. Coole allowed four goals and made 26 saves Saturday in his first full game since Jan. 24.

Coole was initially injured and then missed more games after the death of his grandmother. In that time, the Huskies’ all-around play has fallen off.

Coming into this series, St. Cloud State holds a five-game losing streak.

“It’s one of those situations where we aren’t getting out-shot in many of those games,” Dahl said. “But for whatever reasons, our saves percentage has gone down and our goaltending has gone out the window.”

The last time Minnesota faced the same opponent consecutive weeks into the playoffs was in the 1991-92 season. The Gophers swept North Dakota in the last regular season series but lost the first game of the playoff series before winning in three games.

This year, the Gophers said they would like to win the series in two games.

“Nobody wants to play on Sunday and have to turn around and play Thursday if we win,” forward Jake Fleming said.

Last year, Minnesota won its first WCHA playoff title since Lucia became head coach in 1999. It did so without losing a game – in fact, the Gophers haven’t lost a playoff game in Mariucci Arena since the new building was constructed for the 1993-94 season.

Now, with both teams owning fresh tape to review this week in practice, Lucia said he expects the difference in the two teams to be with the execution rather than the preparation.

The Gophers worked on their power play this week as Lucia said it hasn’t been as sharp over the last month as he would like.

And the players said that last week’s sweep doesn’t mean much once the puck drops for playoffs.

“We can’t sit on our two wins from last week,” Fleming said. “We know they’re going to be ready to go, and we have to be ready to match that.”

Final Five

If the Gophers win the best-of-three series this weekend, they will play in the WCHA Final Five at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul – most likely starting with the play-in game next Thursday. The Final Five games are single elimination, and they conclude with third-place and championship games March 20.

NCAA Tourney

The NCAA tournament selection takes place March 21 and will be shown at 1:30 p.m. locally on ESPN2.

The Gophers currently stand fifth in the Pairwise Rankings, a system devised to mirror the NCAA selection process.