U hopes to keep rolling vs. Badgers

Michael Rand

If members of the Gophers hockey team were seated in a room, watching a tape of their season in progress, they might be tempted to reach for the fast forward button when they got to this weekend’s series against Wisconsin.
After three consecutive strong efforts — a 7-1 win over Minnesota-Duluth and a 3-3 tie and 3-0 win at Colorado College — Minnesota seems to be hitting its peak late in the regular season, precisely the time it would like to make a run.
Standing between the end of the regular season and the start of the league playoffs, however, is one final series with Wisconsin. If the Gophers play well this weekend, they will gain more momentum for the post-season.
With second place in the WCHA virtually locked up, this weekend’s series has very little meaning. In theory, all the games stand to offer is a disruption in Minnesota’s late-season charge.
But don’t try slipping that line of thinking past Gophers defenseman Brett Abrahamson.
Abrahamson said he and the rest of his teammates aren’t concerned about a letdown this weekend simply because the rivalry between the teams is so strong.
“Wisconsin is our arch-rival. We look forward to playing them every time,” he said. “We can put the playoffs off for another week.”
The junior defenseman did acknowledge the importance of keeping momentum going into the post-season. The Gophers will likely host either Alaska-Anchorage or Northern Michigan in the first round of the WCHA playoffs next weekend.
The following weekend, assuming the Gophers win their first-round game, they will play in the WCHA Final Five. More than likely, Minnesota will advance to the NCAA regional the weekend after that. The team would like to be playing its best hockey of the season during those weeks, and a good series against Wisconsin would definitely help.
“Everyone’s seems to be feeling a sense of progress,” Abrahamson said. “We’re putting out more effort as a team. Hopefully, we can keep the snowball rolling this weekend.”
Wisconsin’s recent slump should make the journey somewhat easier.
Three weeks ago, this weekends’ series figured to have WCHA implications for both teams. A win on Feb. 7 against Colorado College put Wisconsin’s WCHA record at 15-8-2.
But the Badgers have since lost five games in a row, including a pair of home setbacks to Denver last weekend, to drop into seventh place in the league.
Instead of battling Wisconsin for a higher WCHA finish, the Gophers will instead use the series as a warm-up for the playoffs.
In contrast to last year’s Minnesota team, which rattled off a 19-game unbeaten streak in the middle of the season and then went 2-6 in its last eight regular season games, this year’s Gophers squad appears to be peaking at the right time.
“You always want to gradually keep getting better,” Gophers center Wyatt Smith said. “Things are really starting to roll for us.”
Keeping that hot streak going will obviously be the team’s top priority this weekend. Since they can’t hit fast forward, they’ll just have to press play.
“We still have a lot of things to correct and fine-tune,” Smith said. “We have a lot more to offer than what we’ve showed. We’ve been playing really well lately, but we can take it even higher.”