Gophers geared for home-and-home series

SCSU hosts Friday, then it’s back to Mariucci for a rematch Saturday.

Dane Mizutani

Freshoff back-to-back angst-filled series against NorthDakota and Wisconsin, the Gophers face yet another rival this weekend: St. Cloud State.

Minnesota plays the Huskies in St. Cloud on Friday and then returns home to Mariucci Arena to play them Saturday.

Minnesota defenseman Nate Schmidt is particularly familiar with the in-state rivalry.

Schmidt, a sophomore, is a native of St. Cloud and will return home this weekend for the first time in his Gophers uniform.

âÄúI grew up watching this series since I could walk,âÄù Schmidt said. âÄúItâÄôs going to be an emotional game.âÄù

Schmidt played his high school hockey at St. Cloud Cathedral and earned all-Wright County Conference honors in each of his three years with the team.

He was also an all-state honoree in his final year with St. Cloud Cathedral.

Despite growing up in St. Cloud, Schmidt chose to attend Minnesota and has flourished in his second year with the Gophers.

He has 13 points on the season and leads the team with 12 assists.

Schmidt did not hide his excitement Wednesday for the upcoming series.

âÄúIt doesnâÄôt get much better than this âÄî in-state rivalry against your old buddies for the stakes as high as they are. I canâÄôt ask for much more,âÄù he said.

Regardless of the emotion Schmidt brings to this series, head coach Don Lucia said he doesnâÄôt want his sophomore defenseman to âÄúmake it more than it isâÄù this weekend.

The weekend is unusual in that itâÄôs a home-and-home series, meaning each team will host a game.

This may come as a relief for the Gophers, who have played three of their first four WCHA series on the road.

âÄúItâÄôs never too much fun to travel,âÄù senior forward Jake Hansen said. âÄúObviously itâÄôs nice to sleep in your own bed and get more rest.

He added: âÄúSt. Cloud is not too bad of a drive, but it will be nice knowing that Saturday we donâÄôt have to get on a bus after the game.âÄù

No. 1 Minnesota (10-2-0, 7-1-0 WCHA) has seen success on the road this season, with its only road loss coming in the series split of the Badgers last weekend at the Kohl Center.

SCSU, on the other hand, is 2-5-0 away from home, but enters this series after a split with Minnesota State last weekend in Mankato.

The Huskies have been plagued by injuries early in the season. Senior captain Drew LeBlanc and starting goaltender Mike Lee have gone down with long-term lower bodyinjuries.

Minnesota will look to exploit LeeâÄôs replacement, freshman Ryan Faragher, this weekend.

âÄúI know theyâÄôve been having goalie issues, which could be an advantage for us if we can just get shots on net and pepper their goalie,âÄù Hansen said. âÄúIf we get traffic in front of him, and we keep peppering him all night, we feel like eventually whatever goalie weâÄôre going to play, theyâÄôre going to break.âÄù

Though SCSU (5-5-2, 3-2-1 WCHA) has struggled with injuries, its penalty kill has been coming on lately.

The Huskies have allowed 11 power-play goals this season but held Minnesota State to one goal with the man advantage last weekend.

Conversely, the Gophers power play has cooled off after starting the season as the most potent unit in the nation.

Lucia said he wants to see his team crashing the net more with the man advantage and work to get what he called âÄúdirty goals.âÄù

âÄúItâÄôs not like teams do a whole lot different,âÄù Lucia said of the opposing penalty kill. âÄúItâÄôs still about execution [for us]. ItâÄôs still about trying to create a two-on-one. ItâÄôs still about trying to deliver pucks to the net.âÄù

Schmidt agreed that the team needs to get more pucks through to the net and said he is eager for his second in-state rivalry of the season.

âÄúI think the in-state rivalries are the biggest part of what makes college hockey âĦ what it is,âÄù Schmidt said. âÄúIt gets people excited. ItâÄôs the reason why we play. ItâÄôs the reason why I wanted to come to the University of Minnesota here and get everyoneâÄôs best shot.âÄù