Men’s hockey looking for answers

Lou Raguse

Maybe the early segment break hurt team development. Perhaps the defensive corps is more depleted than first thought. Possibly the team was overconfident after winning two consecutive national championships.

Regardless of the reasons and excuses armchair coaches and self-proclaimed experts spit back and forth, the fact remains that Minnesota’s men’s hockey team has only one win in its first four games.

But the Gophers themselves say they realize the real reasons for the 1-3 start, which might be the first step toward turning things around.

“It just comes down to us as a team really finding that next level of being accountable,” senior captain Grant Potulny said. “You see a lot of our top-end guys not scoring, and not only are they not scoring, but they’re not being accountable defensively – myself included.”

So far this season, Potulny, senior Troy Riddle and sophomore Thomas Vanek have each scored only one goal. Last season, the trio scored 72 of the team’s 189 goals – despite Potulny missing 22 games.

“I think it lies on the seniors,” Potulny said. “Anytime you look around college hockey, if you’re going to have a successful team, you need your seniors to have great seasons.”

After each loss this season, coach Don Lucia has had to answer whether he is surprised or disappointed with the team’s slow start. At this point in the season, he said, he is still not too worried.

“I think we were a bounce away from being 2-2, and I wouldn’t have been all that surprised to start 2-2,” Lucia said. “I’m disappointed anytime we lose two games at home, especially in the league. I’m more concerned about that than anything.”

Did everyone underestimate the amount of early-season rebuilding the Gophers had to do?

“Not necessarily rebuilding, but just getting to work,” Potulny said. “We need to start coming to work with the attitude that we seemed to have all summer and seem to have Monday through Thursday. We need to find a way to get that going in the weekend.”

Assistant captain Troy Riddle said overconfidence might have been a factor in the sluggish start.

“We kind of came in thinking this would be kind of easy,” Riddle said. “I think now we realize how hard we worked the last two years and how well we played system-wise, and maybe we got away from that a little bit this summer.”

This week in the rankings, Minnesota dropped from No. 3 to No. 10. With the WCHA schedule getting into full swing, the Gophers realize that things are not going to get any easier.

“We got slapped in the face now, but I think it’s going to be a wake-up call,” Riddle said. “Hopefully we will respond.”

Ballard rehabbing

Minnesota’s biggest losses from last season were goaltender Travis Weber and defensemen Paul Martin and Matt DeMarchi.

And now that top blue-liner Keith Ballard is sidelined, the Gophers defense is further depleted.

Ballard has not skated since injuring his left knee Friday, but has done physical therapy each day.

“He’s out this weekend, and after that we’ll take it week by week,” Lucia said.

Team officials were slow to announce facts on Ballard’s injury because of a new federal law enacted in April, which established strict privacy standards for releasing protected health information.

But Ballard described his injury as a strain and said aside from missing the Denver series, he cannot predict how much longer he will be out of the action.

“It’s more of a case of taking care of it every day and just letting trainers know how it feels,” Ballard said.

To help fill the puck-handling void left with Ballard’s absence, this week Lucia moved sophomore forward Andy Sertich to defense.

Sertich last regularly played on the blue line in eighth grade, but has scattered high school experience as a defenseman.

“I think I’m one of the only (Minnesota forwards) who has played back there before,” Sertich said. “All I’m trying to do back there is be steady, but hopefully on the power play and on a few rushes I can get up there and make some plays.”