Huskies no longer a pushover in WCHA

Michael Rand

In the first 11 games of the brief lifetime series between Minnesota and St. Cloud State’s hockey teams, the Gophers went 10-0-1. In the process, the team that began playing in the 1920s reminded its fledgling northwestern neighbor of what program ruled the state.
The last 16 games of the series, however, have been more balanced. The Huskies are 5-9-2 during that span, including wins in two of the last three meetings.
St. Cloud State’s 4-3 overtime win over Minnesota on Dec. 15 — the school’s first-ever road win against the Gophers — may have been the final turning point in transforming a natural rivalry into more than just a lopsided battle for state pride.
That is definitely the impression one would gather after visiting the Gophers locker room on Thursday. If a team is about to face a weak opponent, they give them a gentle pat on the back. But if players are going into a series that means a little extra, there’s a certain buzz in the air. Sometimes, as was the case Thursday, the talk begins.
“We’ve got a little unfinished business with them,” Gophers forward Wyatt Smith said. “I mean, they’re a good team and all, but there’s no reason they should be taking points from us. We’re going in expecting a sweep and nothing less.”
Keep in mind that as the two teams head into this weekend’s home-and-home series, the Huskies are tied for first place in the WCHA with North Dakota, one point ahead of the Gophers. St. Cloud State (13-6-3, 11-6-3 in the WCHA) and Minnesota (15-7, 12-6) hardly have disparate records.
Smith’s words might just be the product of a good week of practice and a confident attitude. It is more likely that statement is a byproduct of the rivalry.
Smith and Casey Hankinson expressed annoyance at the Huskies’ tendency to, in their minds, celebrate a little too much after goals and victories.
“I don’t know who said it first, but if you score a touchdown, don’t celebrate — act like you’ve been there before,” Hankinson said.
The stage appears set, then, for the highest profile regular season series between the two teams.
If the Gophers are going to live up to Smith’s pregame comments, they will need to do a better job of neutralizing the Huskies’ forwards, particularly Mark Parrish and Matt Cullen.
In St. Cloud State’s win earlier this year, Parrish had a natural hat trick. On two of those goals, Cullen set him up with perfect passes.
Hankinson said the Gophers will watch those two players a little more closely than last time.
The Huskies will need better production from their bottom lines. In Minnesota’s 4-1 win in December, Dan Hendrickson, normally a third or fourth line player, assisted on all of the team’s goals. The Gophers depth could be a factor in a close game.
A split of the series would probably not affect the WCHA standings much, but a sweep could.
“If we’re going to have any chance in the WCHA race, we can’t get swept either of the next two (league series)” said St. Cloud State coach Craig Dahl, whose team hosts Colorado College in two weeks after playing a nonconference series with Notre Dame next weekend.
The Gophers would like nothing better than to spoil Dahl’s plans.
“They have a team that you have to respect. They’re getting to that point after six years in the league,” Hankinson said. “We don’t want them getting better than we are.”
Day out for season
The Gophers announced that freshman goaltender Erik Day will miss the rest of the season because of the injury he sustained Nov. 23 against Northern Michigan.
Day has chronic inflammation in his ulnar nerve (elbow) that will require surgery. The surgery will take place within the next couple of months and require seven to 10 weeks of rehabilitation.
Gophers trainer Bob Broxterman said Day should be fully recovered by the start of next season. The Elk River native will likely receive a medical redshirt, making him eligible for four more seasons.
Day played in five games this season, compiling a 3-1 record and a 1.00 goals-against average. His injury leaves Willy Marvin as the Gophers’ only backup to starter Steve DeBus.
Gophers coach Doug Woog said the injury is unfortunate and added, “I might be calling the Daily to put an ad in for a third goalie.”