Hockey team gets workout after being swept

by David La

After watching his team lose two games in sluggish fashion last weekend, Gophers hockey coach Don Lucia didn’t get in his players’ faces.
Instead, Lucia put them on their faces to conclude Monday’s practice — then made them get up and skate to the other end of the rink.
Down, up and skate. Repeat this process about 10 times and voila — a cure for complacency.
“We had our foot on them pretty good today,” Lucia said. “We’re demanding a good week of practice. It starts there if you want to play 60-minutes.”
Last year, the Gophers went a combined 1-11-2 against Wisconsin, North Dakota and St. Cloud State. After facing each team this month, Minnesota boasts a mark of 4-1-1 and sits atop the WCHA standings.
But a pair of disappointing losses to Michigan State and Michigan has Lucia worried about his team’s upcoming series at Denver — a “critical” conference tilt.
“We only have one league loss in 10 games,” Lucia said. “Now we go on the road and play a team capable of beating us twice. It’ll be interesting to see how we respond.”
Minnesota swept the Pioneers (5-7-1) at Mariucci Arena last season, a 7-6 overtime win and a 7-3 runaway.
The Gophers look to capture another four points with a pair of wins this weekend, closing out the first half of the season with 20 of 24 possible standings points.
“It’s a must sweep,” assistant captain Dylan Mills said Saturday. “Anything less than a sweep will be a huge disappointment for us. That’s the attitude we’re going in with.”
Leepart leaves
Freshman forward Dax Leepart left the Gophers last Wednesday, citing an injury and a resulting struggle to crack the lineup.
A torn hip flexor made Leepart unable to skate for the first month of the season. The inability to compete left him on the outside looking in. He did not dress or play in Minnesota’s first 14 games this season.
“It seemed like an upward battle that wasn’t going anywhere,” Leepart said.
Leepart called the parting “amicable” between himself and Lucia. He will finish out fall semester classes before returning to play for the Rochester Mustangs of the USHL. Leepart was the Mustangs sixth leading scorer last season.
“Right now I’m looking at a few different schools to transfer to,” Leepart said. “I definitely want to continue playing.”
ùFreshman forward Jon Waibel, who sat out most of the second period against Michigan recovering from a hit, did not practice Monday for precautionary reasons. Lucia figures to have Waibel back for the weekend.
ùMidwest Sports Channel will telecast live he Gophers vs. Denver game Friday. Face-off for the game has been changed to 8:30 p.m.

David La Vaque covers men’s hockey at welcomes comments at [email protected].