U has plenty in common with Tech

Tim Nichols

Although the Gophers men’s hockey team won’t admit it, it must be nice to finally face a team that isn’t in the top 10 in the country.
But that doesn’t mean this upcoming series against Michigan Tech will be any easier.
“We’re not looking at this series like, `We’re glad it’s not North Dakota,'” defenseman Bill Kohn said. “Look at the teams we’ve been playing, however. They’ve all been good teams and teams that have been rising.”
The Huskies are one of those teams that seems to be tailor-made for the slumping Gophers.
Michigan Tech has zero players on the plus side of the plus/minus rating. The Huskies have also been outscored by 34 goals so far this year, which looks like a good break for a Gophers team that’s let in a conference-worst 3.75 goals per game.
But they do have a dependable goaltender in senior David Weninger.
“David has been the backbone of the team so far,” Michigan Tech coach Tim Watters said.
Weninger has to be the backbone of the team that has not been able to score much this season.
To make up for a lack of scoring and speed, the Huskies have relied on a defensive style of hockey on their smaller sheet of ice at home.
But on the Olympic-sized sheet in Mariucci, are the Huskies in over their heads?
“We’re a better skating team then we were in the past,” Watters said. “We’ve made adjustments to the big sheet very well.”
They are in a similar boat as the Gophers. Michigan Tech is coming off a pair of hard-fought losses to No. 6 Colorado College in Colorado Springs on the larger surface in the World Arena.
But the Gophers will also face off with another opponent, one that they have been facing for weeks now — the critics.
“I was sitting with (junior Dave) Spehar the other day, watching the Sports Show with Pat Reusse,” captain Wyatt Smith said. “The last couple of weeks he has just been tearing us apart. But that’s going to come when a team that is expected to do well isn’t doing well.”
In the last couple of years, Minnesota has been forced to deal with an enormous amount of criticism from factions in the media.
But if Minnesota can’t turn it around — beginning this weekend — the critics could have a field day with this team.
“We need to turn it around and use (the criticism) as positive energy,” goaltender Adam Hauser said.
Before they can throw any words into other people’s faces, Minnesota needs to win a game, which all starts with scoring goals.
Even though the Gophers were swept by No. 1 North Dakota last weekend, they had one of their most prolific offensive outputs of the season, scoring nine goals in the series.
Senior Wyatt Smith has been leading the way for Minnesota, trying to scoop every loose puck on the ice. Some might think he has found a new mission, trying to become more of a leader, but Smith says that isn’t so.
“Just because I’m the captain, I can’t take everyone on my back,” Smith said. “I have to be a little bit selfish. I have to make my own goals. If I go out and take care of myself, people will see that and fall into my lead.”
Smith will need to be on his best game as Minnesota prepares to meet one of the stingier defenses in the WCHA.
With the way both of these teams have been up and down, it’s almost impossible to tell what’s going to happen this weekend.
“These are two very similar hockey teams,” Watters said. “These are two desperate teams looking for points.”