Five for ’15: Regular Season Finale

by Ben Gotz

As the regular season finale comes up on the horizon, the Gophers are still trying to chase consistency.

Three straight weeks have brought three straight opening wins for the Gophers, but they've also lost the season finale the past three weeks as well.

"I think we’ve proven if we play how we’re capable of I don’t think there’s anyone we can’t beat," senior forward Travis Boyd said. "But you know, on the flip side, if we play how we’ve been playing on the last couple Saturdays there’s definitely no one who cannot beat us."

The Gophers have one last shot to iron things out before entering the postseason, and one last shot to claim a regular season championship for the fourth straight season. The Gophers senior class set a record last year as juniors by winning three regular season during their time at Minnesota, but just one win will almost certainly not be enough to claim a fourth and a new program record.

"I think it’s pretty important for my class, the seniors, to go four-for-four in conference championships," Boyd said. "That’d be something that I don’t think ever has been done here so that would be cool."

Here's four other points and storylines emerging as the Gophers last series of the regular season comes up, starting with one piece of sad news:

1. Connor Reilly undergoes surgery

Redshirt sophomore Connor Reilly underwent surgery on Tuesday according to head coach Don Lucia. The move officially ends Reilly's season and rules out him returning for the postseason.

"I feel bad for Connor, what he’s had to endure," Lucia said. "One more injury and we just felt at this point it’d be better for him to go ahead and have the surgery so he’s healthy when next year rolls around."

Reilly was the Gophers leading goal scorer with 11 when he was injured on the road against Wisconsin Jan. 31. The redshirt sophomore had overcome two previous knee surgeries to become a key contributor on the team's offense and power play.

Lucia said Dr. Robert F. LaPrade performed Reilly's surgery. Reilly had previously traveled to Vail, Colorado to see Dr. LaPrade for his previous two knee surgeries. 

2. Six man senior class

The Gophers six man senior class of Kyle Rau, Travis Boyd, Sam Warning, Seth Amrboz, Christian Isackson and Ben Marshall have accomplished plenty in their time at Minnesota.

Three straight regular season titles preceded three straight NCAA berths and two Frozen Four appearances.

Combined, the six have 128 of the team's 328 points and 58 of the team's 118 goals. Seniors center three of the team's four lines.

When the Gophers were in a slump in the middle of the season, the all senior line of Boyd, Ambroz and Warning was a major factor in two straight sweeps of Ohio State and Michigan that put the Gophers back into contention.

"They’re all program guys," Lucia said. "[We] have some guys who could’ve left after last year who elected to come back because of what the program means. I’m just grateful for this group of seniors, how loyal they’ve been, how much they’ve meant to this program."

Boyd said it didn't hit him that this week was his last week of practice at Mariucci Arena until Warning pointed it out to him. It still hasn't hit Rau yet, though he said he won't necessarily miss practices.

"Probably won’t hit me until the end," Rau said. "This is my last week of practice here, which is nice. Big rink to skate up and down for an hour."

3. Postseason mindset

Even though their NCAA future is not secure, the Gophers still think they have a chance to make noise in the postseason.

"I think we’re doing good," Rau said. "You look at it, Adam Wilcox. He’s someone that we’ve come to rely on and he’s playing his best hockey of the year. And whenever you can look back and say that about your goalie that makes everyone else feel good and lets your team feel more confident."

The Gophers mentioned this week that they know they have a chance if they just get in the dance. The trick will be punching their ticket.

"Once you’re in the tournament, it’s head-to-head match-up, whoever’s better on that day moves on so just getting in there and giving ourselves a chance," Boyd said. "I think we’ve got of experience and if we can get into the NCAA tournament, I don’t see a reason why we can’t make a deep run."

4. Defending the Nittany Lions

The Gophers know they'll have to face a high volume of shots this weekend. In their first two contests against the Nittany Lions, Penn State recorded a total of 70 shots on goal.

"Penn State, they’re a hardworking team and they’ll shoot the puck…from anywhere," Marshall said. "Blocking shots is going to be critical, gaps [are] going to be critical, making sure we’re on their top guys, knowing who’s on the ice. All the little things that play a huge part in defense hockey."

The Gophers pieced together a solid defensive game their first match-up with the Nittany Lions, grinding out the clock in a 2-1 victory. But in the second game Penn State got more shots home in a 4-3 overtime win.

If the Gophers want to come out of the weekend with a fourth straigiht regular season title, they're going to need to focus on playing like they did the first game.

"Towards the end of the year here, [defense is] something that needs to be almost perfect, if not perfect," Marshall said. "Towards the playoff run and especially the push that we need to make this weekend defense needs to be critical."