Defense key for series with Sioux

Josh Linehan

Conventional hockey wisdom says defense is hard work, and offense, well, offense just happens.
So even though Minnesota scored an average of 6.25 goals in its last four games, coach Don Lucia is looking for an improved defensive effort this weekend in Grand Forks.
While the Gophers offense has been searing-hot, Lucia knows no team can keep such a scorching pace up forever. Instead, Lucia is rallying his troops to keep the Sioux off the scoreboard.
“If we don’t take them off the puck, or if we turn the puck over in the neutral zone we’re in trouble,” Lucia said. “Their defensemen are good, and they don’t pass (defender to defender) very often.
“They’ll turn it around and be on top of you in a hurry.”
Lucia wouldn’t mind seeing his team score well under that gaudy 6.25 average.
“If we score four a game, with our goaltender, we’ll give ourselves an excellent chance to win,” Lucia said.
Minnesota has good reason not to expect fireworks on the scoreboard — despite the Gophers’ excellent play of late and North Dakota’s two losses last weekend in Wisconsin.
Minnesota’s record from its last five trips to Ralph Engelstad Arena: 0-9-1.
The road trip will be Minnesota’s first since December. In that time, Lucia says his young forwards are more productive in part because of playing their last five games at home.
“We’ve been burying our chances the last few games, but that’s been in the friendly confines,” Lucia said. “I’d love to get a split up there. It’s been a tough place to play, but I love to play in that type of atmosphere.”
If Minnesota is to extend its winning streak they will have to consistently score goals five-on-five.
The Gophers possess one of the nation’s most potent power plays. Minnesota has hit on 32-of-120 power play opportunities, good for a percentage of .267, second best in the nation behind a team named “Niagara.”
Lucia wants to see his extra-man success carry over into full-strength situations.
“We’re having great success on the power play, but we still had that success using a completely different power play last Saturday,” Lucia said. “We’ve also had success with a number of different players on the power play.
“There’s only so many ways you can line the guys up out there. What it all comes down to is puck movement. I’d like to see that puck movement carry over throughout the whole game.”
Without star forward Erik Westrum, who’s suspended for Friday’s tilt, Minnesota will be looking for sophomore forward John Pohl to continue his torrid scoring pace.
Pohl is tied for second in the WCHA in scoring with 12 goals and 32 points, and he leads the league in power-play scoring.
“I’m looking forward to it,” Pohl said. “It’s a tough place to play, but a great place to play.
“We’ve always had the ability to score goals, and we’re finally burying our chances. Hopefully we keep it up and play some good defense.”
And though Lucia might have preferred another tune-up weekend before visiting Minnesota’s no-man’s land, he said there’s no time like the present.
“We have to play them up there sometime, so it might as well be now,” Lucia said.

Josh Linehan covers men’s hockey and welcomes comments to [email protected]