Gophers looking

by Tim Nichols

With the Minnesota men’s hockey team seemingly on an upswing, looking back on previous losses could have a negative impact.
So the Gophers are trying at all costs to avoid talking about the humiliating sweep they suffered at the hands of Colorado College on Nov. 6-7.
“We have to keep feeding off the momentum (of the Michigan Tech series),” senior Reggie Berg said. “We’ve played well in the last five games. But our main concern right now is getting points.”
That’s a pretty decent goal, but it’s also the same goal every other team in the tightly-knit WCHA has this time of the year.
Minnesota and Colorado College are right in the middle of a hotly competitive conference race. Neither team is likely to catch national No. 1 and conference leading juggernaut North Dakota, but the battle for home ice and a high seed is still very much alive.
“The final ten games are very important,” Colorado College coach Don Lucia said. “It’s going to be interesting to see what we can do. There should be lots of splits, though.”
But splits are not what these teams need. Minnesota is currently in sixth place in the WCHA and fighting with Wisconsin and St. Cloud State for the all-important fifth and final home-ice seed.
Colorado College will try to extend its lead on third place and idle No. 10 Denver. That the Tigers are still in good position is a testament to just how deep they really are.
Colorado College has been plagued by injuries all season, although few opposing coaches or players will cry for the Tigers.
“Toby Peterson will play for the first time in a long time this weekend,” Lucia said. “K.J. Voorhees will play. But we lost (forward) Berk Nelson (knee) and just lost (center) Jon Austin (sprained ankle) in practice this week. We’re a lot healthier than we have been, but it’s still hard on continuity.”
But continuity didn’t seem to bother the Tigers when they swept Minnesota 7-1 and 6-1 at Mariucci Arena, a series that Lucia called the best performance he has seen from his team in his six years in Colorado Springs.
For the Gophers to be successful against the quicker Tigers, they will need to put the clamps on the neutral zone and stop the full-line and odd-man rushes.
“We need to tighten it up,” defenseman Brad Timmons said. “They’ve got a good transition game that we need to stop, which depend on everyone identifying their guy.”
And then there’s Gophers freshman goaltender Adam Hauser, who’s had an up-and-down season, to be generous.
Hauser will be making his 22nd consecutive start in net for Minnesota. He is also one of the most important players on the ice if the Gophers expect to succeed. In Hauser’s eight wins, he has a 1.38 goals-against average (GAA) and a .945 save percentage.
In his twelve losses, however, he posts a dismal 5.24 GAA and .822 save percentage. Despite his tendency to get emotionally shook up and lose focus after giving up a goal, he claims he has learned a lot since his first start of the season against St. Lawrence.
“In my opinion, I’ve learned about not getting rattled and making personal challenges to myself,” Hauser said. “I need to play well for my confidence and it would be nice for the team’s confidence.”
Minnesota’s confidence might be higher than it has been all season. But a positive attitude is never enough to beat an elite team like the Tigers.
Colorado College is currently second in goals-for while Minnesota is dead last in goals-against, which means this series has the potential to be ugly.
But, hey, at least Minnesota is confident.
“It’s going to be tough, they’re a tough team,” Hauser said. “Our stats don’t match-up well, some people might think, ‘We’d be lucky to get out of here alive.’ We can’t think like that. We need to split, that’ll be good.”