After bye week, Gophers take on Tigers

Minnesota swept Colorado College earlier this season and gave up just one goal over the series.

Mark Remme

Last October, Colorado College left Minneapolis with a bad taste in its mouth.

The Tigers ran into a red-hot Minnesota men’s hockey team – one that thoroughly dismantled Colorado College, outscoring them 10-1 in a weekend sweep.

But things are different this time around, and the second-ranked Gophers won’t have such an easy time repeating that feat in Colorado Springs this weekend.

The Western Collegiate Hockey Association series takes place at 8:37 p.m. Friday and 8:07 p.m. Saturday, both CST.

No. 14 Colorado College (16-11-3 overall, 12-8-2 WCHA) limped into its last series with Minnesota one week after a rough sweep at the hands of now third-ranked New Hampshire, and Tigers coach Scott Owens said it showed.

“We were coming off a tough weekend,” Owens said. “We weren’t ready to play a (Minnesota) team of that caliber offensively.”

But Colorado College wasn’t at full strength, either. Leading scorer Jimmy Kilpatrick missed both games with what Owens said turned out to be a bad sinus infection.

Freshman forward Bill Sweatt also missed time during the series while being plagued by mono. Both should be active this weekend.

Make no mistake, Minnesota (23-5-3, 15-4-3) isn’t the same team that suited up in late October either.

Back then, it had just returned from a dominant sweep of Ohio State in Columbus and, against Colorado College, posted the fifth and sixth wins of an eventual eight-game winning streak.

Now, sitting at .500 in its past eight games, the Gophers said they know their chance of repeating as WCHA regular season champions will suffer serious turbulence in the next two weeks.

And it won’t help that Colorado College is playing these games at home, where it is 9-2-0 in conference play.

“One of our goals here is to never lose at home,” Gophers sophomore forward Ryan Stoa said. “It’s probably the same over there, and they’ll probably play that much harder.”

A strong theme emerged last time the two teams met, another stark difference for both teams this time around.

Gophers senior goalie Kellen Briggs notched a shutout in that Friday game, while sophomore netminder Jeff Frazee allowed just one goal Saturday.

By comparison, the Tigers featured a pair of goaltenders who didn’t fare so well. While senior Matt Zaba allowed just two goals Friday, sophomore Drew O’Connell allowed eight Saturday.

Now, after a rough January, Briggs and Frazee no longer look quite as invincible as they did earlier in the season.

Meanwhile, Zaba is coming off back-to-back weekends of solid goaltending. He allowed just three goals in a sweep of Wisconsin two weeks ago and was touched up for just five last weekend against high-powered St. Cloud State.

“(Zaba)’s played very well for us this year,” Owens said. “He’s covered up a lot of mistakes we’ve made.”

Minnesota coach Don Lucia recognizes the resilience of the Tigers’ team, and said he knows the nature of the program itself has a lot to do with it.

“If you look at their program, they’re a team that’s in the NCAA tournament every year and in the (WCHA) Final Five every year,” Lucia said. “When you have that tradition in your program, it helps you win games.”

For Owens’ squad, the reality is simple. Points are needed to secure home ice, but with teams like North Dakota closing in on his squad, nothing is taken for granted.

And the only thing the Tigers control is what takes place while they’re on the ice.

“All you do is play as hard as you can and let the chips fall,” Owens said. “You do the best you can and let everything sort itself out.”