Gophers keeping big win in perspective

Ben Goessling

Two days after Minnesota’s men’s hockey team scored its biggest win in two months by beating Wisconsin 5-3 Saturday, Minnesota returned to work Monday trying not to treat it that way.

The Gophers avoided getting swept for the third time in five weeks with the win, and a 3-1 season series edge over the Badgers will certainly help the Gophers in terms of NCAA Tournament seeding.

But the Gophers said they aren’t taking the win as a sign their slump is over.

“Hopefully, we can take this one and run with it,” goaltender Kellen Briggs said. “But this weekend’s a new series. We can’t just sit around and say, ‘Oh, we split with Wisconsin.’ We have to come out like that every weekend.”

Minnesota (20-11-0, 13-9-0 WCHA) slipped one spot to ninth in the U.S. College Hockey Online poll Monday. Wisconsin also fell, from third to fourth.

Pairwise looking good

Minnesota’s win over Wisconsin was important for another reason: It moved Minnesota into a tie for second in the Pairwise Rankings, with Denver and Boston College.

The Pairwise, a formula that mimics the NCAA Tournament selection process, has correctly predicted the field each of the last four years. It takes into consideration a team’s record against other teams under consideration for the tournament.

Despite having the 12th best record in the country, the Gophers are tied for second thanks to the nation’s toughest schedule and have the inside track to a No. 1 seed in the tournament when the field is announced March 20.

Line shakeup works

Gophers coach Don Lucia switched his first line for the third consecutive game Saturday, and Minnesota might have finally found a combination it can stick with.

Forward Tyler Hirsch skated with Ryan Potulny and Danny Irmen, and the trio combined for six points, with each player scoring a goal.

Hirsch, the team’s third-leading scorer, had not played with Irmen and Potulny yet this year, but his presence seemed to rejuvenate the Gophers’ top two scorers, who had combined for just two points in Minnesota’s last four games.

“I thought Tyler had a good week. He was emotional, and he was involved,” Lucia said. “We have to start keeping things together. As coaches, we’re tired of spending 45 minutes to an hour every day trying to figure out lines. We shouldn’t have to do that.”

Kessel update

Phil Kessel, the nation’s most coveted 2005-06 recruit, will visit Minnesota’s campus in two weeks, but Lucia logged some time with the Verona, Wis. native’s parents during the weekend.

Phil Kessel Sr. said he and his wife, Kathy Kessel, met with Lucia on Saturday afternoon. Kathy Kessel will accompany her son to campus for his official visit Feb. 20.

“It was good for her to get to know (Lucia) a little bit and see what he’s like,” Phil Kessel Sr. said.

Minnesota and Wisconsin are thought to be slightly ahead of Michigan and Boston University in the sweepstakes for Kessel, who toured Wisconsin in October.

And while many think Kessel will stay home and play for the Badgers, his father said that’s not necessarily the case.

“Proximity to home is important but probably more for us than him,” Phil Kessel Sr. said. “He’s not a big homebody, and he’s never been a huge Badger fan. He doesn’t have any dying allegiance to Wisconsin.

“Minnesota and Wisconsin are probably about even at this point. But Phil is somebody who would go somewhere just to be different; he would do the opposite of what everybody is telling him to do.”