Column: Assessing the men’s hockey team

Improvements need to be made for success next year.

David Nelson

The Gophers men’s hockey team has brought both brilliance and disappointment this season with the 14 games it has played.

Minnesota averages 3.43 goals per game and holds the best power-play percentage in the country. But it’s shown flaws in its performance, such as its defense, that are troubling.

“Our special teams have been good. That’s been a real shining spot,” head coach Don Lucia told reporters after Saturday’s tie against Michigan State.

With Minnesota not playing again until January, it ends the first half of the season 9-4-1.

Minnesota’s power play has run like a well-oiled machine this season, with the Gophers converting on more than one-third of their chances with the man advantage.

But the Gophers have also allowed 2.14 goals per game and rank in the bottom half of the nation in penalty killing.

That sort of inconsistency showed this weekend as the Gophers dominated Michigan State in their Friday night matchup 5-0.

The following night, Minnesota spent a large portion of three periods playing from behind before ultimately tying the Spartans. The Gophers eventually lost the shootout and missed out on one point.

So what should fans be expecting when the Gophers reopen their season with the Mariucci Classic next year?

Improvement.

Some players have started their seasons slower than others.

“We need some guys who scored last year to start scoring,” Lucia said. “We’ve got some guys that had double-digit goals sitting with one. Those guys have to contribute a little bit more.”

Two Gophers appear to fit Lucia’s description: sophomore Taylor Cammarata and senior Seth Ambroz.

Both sit with just one goal this season and will need to step up during the next part of the season after combining for 24 goals last year.

But the biggest improvement Minnesota needs to make to ensure success is with its energy on the ice.

When the Gophers lost to a talented St. Cloud State team and got swept by Minnesota-Duluth, few fans seemed to reach for the panic button.

But after losing to the U.S. Under-18 team in a scrimmage, even the players had to acknowledge that the team lacked the same fire it played with in recent years.

“It was pretty frustrating, to be honest,” junior forward Ryan Reilly told reporters following the loss to the U-18 team. “We just haven’t been playing the way we can.”

Still, it’s a sure bet Minnesota will make these improvements, considering its tradition of winning in the past few years.

With so much talent littered across the roster, Gophers fans should expect a much more consistent team in 2015.