Gophers look for winning line combos

Head coach Don Lucia shook up the team’s lines last weekend.

Ben Gotz

With his team currently missing the cut to make the NCAA tournament, Gophers head coach Don Lucia opted to shake up the lineup last weekend.

The forwards moved up and down the line chart and found themselves with new pairs of teammates on the ice.

With a combined 99 shots on goal in the two games, it’s safe to say the Gophers adapted pretty quickly.

“I thought they were good,” senior captain Kyle Rau, who moved from center to wing last weekend, said. “Anytime you get 99 shots in a weekend, you’re doing something right.”

Not only were the Gophers able to get pucks to the net, but Rau that on Saturday the the Gophers recorded their second fewest turnovers of the season and their second most hits.

“One of the things we did well: We didn’t turn over the puck as much last weekend,” Lucia said. “I thought our puck pursuit was much better. I thought our time in the offensive zone was much better, and hopefully that will continue as we move forward the rest of the year.”

All of the team’s lines got in on the action last weekend, with members of each of the four lines recording a point.

Even the fourth line of junior A.J. Michaelson, senior Christian Isackson and freshman Leon Bristedt received praise from Lucia after Saturday’s game, when Isackson scored his first goal of the season.

“I think we just focused on getting pucks to the net, pucks down low and working to get shots,” Michaelson said. “I think our goal is to create more time with the puck, creating more end zone offensive time, and we’re doing that.”

Despite the changeup’s success last weekend, the Gophers lines will be mixed and matched again when the team faces No. 1 Minnesota State-Mankato in the North Star College Cup.

Sophomore Vinni Lettieri will be out of the lineup because of a one-game suspension from the Big Ten after leaving the team’s bench during the team’s on-ice brawl with Wisconsin on Saturday.

“We’ve kind of had to move guys in and out of our lineup all year. It’s really nothing new,” Lucia said. “I thought we had pretty good play from all four of our lines. Now this weekend we have to change it up again.”

Rau said the lines in practice have been switching every day, and Lucia said he wouldn’t decide on a lineup until Friday morning.

But no matter what the lineup looks like, Rau said there’s been a key lesson he took away from the series against Wisconsin.

“I think, once again, it’s closing out games,” Rau said. “We had the lead again with 10 minutes to go, and we blew it.”

Finishing games has been an issue for the Gophers in recent weeks, as they’ve lost two third-period leads in as many weeks.

Rau said the team has been watching film this week to limit the mental mistakes that have cost the team points so far.

“We just [have] to be smarter. That’s kind of what this season has come down to … we’ve got to stop making the bad mistake at the bad time,” junior goaltender Adam Wilcox said. “That’s why we’re losing games at the end like Wisconsin … [because] we’re having a couple mental breakdowns and some colossal mistakes that really end up costing us.”