Just when you thought things couldn’t get any worse for the Gophers men’s hockey team, it gets to travel to Grand Forks, N.D., to take on the No. 1 team in the country, fresh off a dominating sweep of Colorado College.
That’s not quite what the doctor might order for a team that has been dominated at times by far less superior teams.
But coach Doug Woog is trying to look on the sunny side, no matter how feeble the attempt is becoming. Minnesota has tied in four of its last five games and is on an eight-game winless streak.
“I think we see some better things than the results,” Woog said. “Some of the things during the ties were pretty positive. The inability to win has been the most frustrating; their play hasn’t been that frustrating for the most part.”
The Gophers have been equally frustrating to watch recently. They might play well for awhile, but when one puck enters their own net, the bubble gum plugging the hole in the dam comes off.
And when the water starts trickling through the cracks, watch out.
“Our biggest problem has been that once the other team gets a goal,” defenseman Dylan Mills said, “they end up getting another one. That can’t happen this weekend at all.”
What the Gophers can’t allow is one defensive miscue. The Sioux come into this series with the most potent offense in the conference — and arguably the country.
Led by the conference’s top gun, senior Jason Blake, the high-powered offense might leave goaltender Adam Hauser running for cover.
But the scariest thing about a team like North Dakota is that it doesn’t change from period to period; they are consistently powerful.
“We pretty much play the same throughout three periods,” Sioux coach Dean Blais said. “If you look at our shot charts, our totals from period to period are pretty similar.”
Another source of success for the Sioux has been the emergence of goaltender Andy Kollar, providing depth to an already solid goaltending crew led by Karl Goehring.
The beauty of having an extra goaltender to fall back on is something that’s hurt the Gophers this season, with the freshman Hauser being backed up by two goaltenders with a grand total of zero minutes of experience — freshmen walk-ons Rob LaRue and Ryan Westrum.
Minnesota and North Dakota are two teams on entirely different ends of the spectrum right now. One is at the pinnacle of the college hockey world while the other is struggling to find a win.
What has made these two teams so diametrically different?
“They’ve got tons of speed, tons of success going behind them in the last three years,” Woog said. “They haven’t lost anyone either. Everybody stays there — that’s a huge thing. Our fortunes would be a little different if I could have four players back in the formula here. It makes a difference.”
Whether or not Erik Rasmussen, Mike Crowley, Ben Clymer and other defected Gophers would make that much of a difference on this year’s team will never be known.
But one thing is for sure: The Sioux know how to get the job done while Minnesota looks almost clueless.
“The difference between these two teams is that we’ve won the close games, and Minnesota has lost them,” Blais said. “Sometimes it’s goaltending. They’ve also had some bad luck.”
Minnesota must start making its own luck on the ice, which begins with them being motivated from the opening face-off to the final whistle. The winning attitude that needed a kick in the pants during intermission must be in the Gophers’ heads when the game starts.
“We’ve been down, and had to be talked to by a captain or a coach,” Mills said. “The screaming and yelling shouldn’t be getting us going, that should be happening on our own.”