Minnesota taking advantage of its deep roster

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Paul Bangasser

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Minnesota menâÄôs hockey coach Don Lucia has a strong motivational tool for his players that he was missing last year. He can sit anybody he wants right now. Last season, due to several injuries and the early departure of Kyle Okposo, Lucia barely had enough players to fill out a roster. But now, after bringing in a highly touted freshman class, Lucia regularly has four forwards and a pair of defensemen waiting for their chance to lace up their skates. âÄúGuys are a little more hungry [this season]; there is more competition within our team for spots to play,âÄù sophomore forward Patrick White said. âÄúWeâÄôve got more guys sitting in the stands. Everyone has to work hard in practice all week to make sure theyâÄôre playing where they were, or if you werenâÄôt playing where you wanted to be, youâÄôre getting to where you want to be.âÄù And the results have spoken for themselves. Minnesota (5-0-3 overall, 4-0-2 Western Collegiate Hockey Association) is off to its best start since the 2001-2002 season, and its offensive production is increasing as the season goes on. âÄúThereâÄôs been a lot of positive energy in the locker room,âÄù White said. âÄúI think thatâÄôs been whatâÄôs helping us have more success.âÄù The success has Lucia content with his lines and maintains that a player has to show that he belongs on the ice for Lucia to make a change as long as the team is winning. That makes things difficult for sophomore Drew Fisher, and freshmen Joe Miller, Grant Scott, Nick Larson and Michael Dorr , who have combined for just three appearances this season. Dorr and Miller each got a game in because of one-game suspensions to fellow freshmen Jake Hansen and Nico Sacchetti, but even DorrâÄôs near goal wasnâÄôt good enough for him to reappear in the lineup so far. âÄúYouâÄôve got to finish those off though,âÄù Lucia said. âÄúYouâÄôve got to bear down in those situations.âÄù Chances are even slimmer for freshmen goalies Kent Patterson and Jake Kremer. Their best chance to see the ice would be during a non-conference series this year. But the Gophers only series outside of the WCHA this side of New YearâÄôs was last weekend against New Hampshire in a series that further cemented sophomore Alex KangasâÄô skates in the crease as the starter. âÄúHeâÄôs our guy,âÄù Lucia has said regularly this season. Barring injury or KangasâÄô game going sour, the backups likely wonâÄôt see any time until possibly the Dodge Holiday Classic in early January âÄî the only non-conference games Minnesota will play the rest of the regular season. Gophers jump to No. 2 With another undefeated weekend tethered with losses from Colorado College and Boston College, the Gophers have jumped two spots in the USCHO.com/CBS Sports Division I MenâÄôs Poll from No. 4 to No. 2. Boston University moved up to No. 1 in the country, while WCHA rivals Colorado College and Denver are ranked fourth and fifth, respectively. Minnesota is tied for the nationâÄôs longest unbeaten streak at eight games while Air Force currently sits at 8-0-0 overall. The Gophers received 12 first-place votes to the Terriers 29.