Gophers focus on Big Ten

The team is 8-2 in conference play and 5-10 against all non-Big Ten teams.

Sophomore Steve Johnson handles the puck at the Xcel Energy Center on Sunday where the Gophers competed in the North Star College Cup.

Liam James Doyle

Sophomore Steve Johnson handles the puck at the Xcel Energy Center on Sunday where the Gophers competed in the North Star College Cup.

Mike Hendrickson

The Gophers appeared to be in a rhythm for the first time all season heading into last weekend.
Minnesota had rattled off five straight victories and was 7-2 in its last nine games. Then the North Star College Cup happened, and the team’s nonconference season ended on a sour note.
Now the Gophers have to lick their wounds quickly as Big Ten play resumes.
“We didn’t deserve to win; we didn’t deserve the championship at all,” sophomore defender Steve Johnson said. “Now we just got to focus on Big Ten play. … We’re in first place, so we control our own destiny.”
The Gophers lost both their games in the tournament, which features four college hockey programs from Minnesota, finishing last for the second year in a row.
“We were choppy; we weren’t very efficient coming out,” head coach Don Lucia said. “It’s certainly not pointing the fingers at any one person — it’s a combination.”
The loss caused the Gophers to finish 5-10 in nonconference play, but the team is still in good shape in the Big Ten.
Minnesota is tied for first in the conference standings with Michigan. The team’s next opponent, Penn State, is right behind in third.
“We haven’t been having a good season at all, but in the Big Ten we’re showing what we can do,” junior forward Vinni Lettieri said. “We haven’t even been playing our best hockey in the Big Ten, too, so it’s definitely a good aspect to our team that we’re winning the right games at the right time.”
Minnesota is 8-2 in the Big Ten this season, with its only losses coming to Michigan and Penn State on the road.
The Gophers score 4.4 goals per game in conference games but only averaged 2.53 goals in their 15 nonconference games.
“The nonconference slate is over, and we didn’t do well enough,” Lucia said. “There’s nothing we can do about it now … so we got to try and win as many games as we possibly can.”
One thing the Gophers can pull from is that they were in a similar position last year.
Minnesota won six of its next seven games after losing the North Star College Cup last year and won the Big Ten regular season and tournament title.
“We started to score,” Lucia said. “We haven’t been a real deep offensive team [this year], so that’s why we need … the other guys chipping in.”
The Gophers only have two series left this season against teams with a winning record, and one comes this weekend against Penn State.
The soft schedule could help the team as the Gophers try to go from last in Minnesota to first in their conference for the second year in a row.
“Every day’s a new day, and this week’s going to be a great week for preparation for Penn State,” Lettieri said. “We’re just going to have to go out there and play how we usually play.”