Denver, Gophers seeking stability

by Tim Nichols

While it’s not the Minnesota-Denver match-up sports fans are waiting to see, there’s still a lot riding on this weekend’s Gophers-Pioneers men’s hockey series.
This intriguing match-up features two teams who have taken similar paths in recent weeks. Both are expected to be better than they are right now, and both are earning reputations for putting forth inconsistent efforts.
“I’m hoping we’re over that hump,” Denver coach George Gwozdecky said. “We have to continue what we’ve done over our last four games.”
All the Pioneers have done in their last four games was defeat No. 6 Boston College, No. 4 New Hampshire and Lake Superior State. Their only loss came to No. 2 Maine, a game in which Gwozdecky felt his team played its best hockey.
But Denver’s lack of consistency has been its downfall throughout the year. The Pioneers lost four straight before their victory over Lake Superior State.
Does the story sound a little similar?
For the majority of the Gophers’ season, they have been searching for a stable performance from one series to the next — and sometimes between periods. Minnesota heads into the series with Denver on the heels of what they consider one of their better performances, a 3-3 tie with Boston College.
Now it’s just a matter of whether they can keep a good thing going.
“[Practice] has been good,” freshman goaltender Adam Hauser said. “Our senses have been heightened some. We’ve been working on the little things a little bit more.”
Hauser will need a keen eye and quick reflexes this weekend as he goes against one of the more prolific scoring teams in the league.
The Pioneers will be led into battle by seniors Paul Comrie and James Patterson. The two forwards have been scoring at a steady clip, scoring a combined 15 goals in conference play.
Denver also boasts the best power play in the league, connecting at a 27.6 percent, which will mean that Hauser will be counted on to play with a maturity beyond his 18 years.
“My job is still the same,” Hauser said. “I know they have very good seniors, which means we’ve got to be much tougher on defense.”
The Gophers will be stronger on defense as they will be rejoined with what could be their best all-around player, freshman defenseman Jordan Leopold.
On Thursday, Leopold returned from his stint with the U.S. junior team. The Robbinsdale, Minn., product should immediately help Minnesota’s recently anemic power play.
“It was fun there, I learned a lot of stuff,” Leopold said. “You’re always going to learn something when your playing with the best players in the world at the under-20 level.”
Leopold should help out a Gophers team that’s been dealing with defensive miscues at the worst possible times. But if this trend is to turn around, the responsibility falls squarely on the shoulders of the senior class.
“Moral victories are for losers,” senior Mike Anderson said. “No one’s going to be satisfied around here until we get some victories.”
The talk is strong, but in the last year and a half, the Gophers have been earning more moral victories than the ones that really count.
If they are going to turn their fortune, a good showing in Denver will be critical.
“I haven’t been (content), I can’t speak for other people,” Anderson said. “Last year and the first half of this year has been unacceptable. But I’m confident that this team will be better than last year’s team. We’ve got a lot of games left, and we’ll be there at the end.”