Minnesota hopes to move up, finish its road trips

by Sarah Mitchell

The Minnesota men’s hockey team has become nomadic.
Minnesota (5-8-1, 3-4-1 WCHA) returned home from the College Hockey Showcase in Michigan last Sunday only to board a plane Wednesday for its weekend series at Alaska-Anchorage (6-6-0, 4-4-0).
This Sunday’s return marks the end of nine of 11 days on the road.
“It’s definitely out of the ordinary to get home on a Sunday afternoon and right away Wednesday we’re gone again,” Gophers winger John Pohl said. “I didn’t unpack. I just left all my stuff in the bag and I’ll just zip it up again.”
Pohl could have unpacked on Tuesday. Gophers coach Don Lucia canceled practice, allowing the team to refresh physically and mentally.
For a team that has not been road savvy — at least according to its 2-6 road record — a day off was a wise call.
Five of those losses, however, were handed down by opponents ranked in the top 10 when the Gophers faced them.
“We’ll probably never go through anything like this again,” Pohl said. “It will make us better in the long run. I think we could be worse, but by the same token, we could be better.”
Lighting it up this weekend is crucial. Minnesota stands only one point back of the fifth-place Seawolves and the conference’s top four teams are paired this weekend.
By Sunday, the WCHA leaderboard could have a new look.
“The top three teams have really put themselves up there and now the big grab is who’s fourth,” Lucia said. “Between fourth and 10th there’s not much difference.”
In trying to gain ground, the Gophers are forced to take the ice without their usual first line. Lucia suspended freshman center Shawn Roed, who skates on the top line with Pohl and senior winger Nate Miller, last week from practice and games because he had fallen behind in schoolwork.
Roed was back in practice Wednesday, but Lucia said the sophomore would not make the trip to Alaska. He needs to stay behind to catch up in the classroom.
“You start to miss players in the long term more than in a weekend,” Lucia said. “This has been a good learning experience for him. I think he’s been very positive about what’s happened and he’s working very hard to correct his mistake.”
In Roed’s absence last weekend, junior Erik Westrum teamed up with Pohl and Miller. But Lucia said the center was playing out of position. Against the Seawolves, freshman Jeff Taffe will take Roed’s place.
“Playing with (Pohl and Miller), they’re playing so well, it should be whoever’s playing there is going to benefit,” Lucia said.
Maybe the excitement of playing on Minnesota’s first line will give Taffe fresh legs on a jetlagged team. Or maybe the team’s impending break is a motivator as well.
“You got to go hard for two more weeks,” Pohl said. “We’ll get a good rest after that.”

Sarah Mitchell covers men’s hockey and welcomes comments at [email protected]