With a firing line of Wisconsin and Colorado College coming up for Minnesota in the next few weekends, it might be difficult for the Gophers not to look past St. Cloud State.
But coach Doug Woog thinks the tough part of the schedule started last weekend, and he says it’s not going to get any easier.
“I think St. Cloud will contend,” Woog said. “And when I say contend, I think it’s obvious that people felt that Colorado and North Dakota were the best two teams; I would put them in the cluster of the four tough series we have now. I wouldn’t put them out of that.”
One of the major factors in the home and home series will be the health of both teams.
For the first time in a long time, Minnesota will be coming into the game completely healthy, with no scratches due to injury.
St. Cloud, on the other hand, is hurting.
The Huskies will be without the services of five players in all — forwards Matt Bailey and Jon Cullen with shoulder problems, freshman Nate DiCasmirro with a sprained ankle, center Nick Ouimet is suspended by the team, Chris Zaleski is out for the year suffering from post-concussion syndrome, along with last year’s leading scorer Matt Noga.
“Two of my players have had shoulder surgery, no one touched Nate DiCasmirro (when he suffered a sprained ankle) and (Matt) Noga broke his foot by rolling it over in an off-ice agility drill,” St. Cloud coach Craig Dahl said. “It’s been freak things.”
The Gophers, however, have no injuries to report. They are completely healthy with a full complement of players.
“I was excited last weekend, and I said, `You know what, there’s nobody hurt.’ It’s so nice,” Woog said. “It’s much better for the players, too. It makes the players compete hard when you know there is going to be competition for the last couple spots.
“Not only the guys who are in jeopardy, but also the guys who are rock solid, like Wyatt Smith, are happy because our team is going to be better because they’re going to have to strive.”
A glut of players competing for a few positions on the ice can be beneficial for a team, but it can also lead to instability — especially between the pipes.
Both St. Cloud State and Minnesota are in similar situations by losing their long time starters — Brian Leitza and Steve DeBus, respectively. The only difference between the two is that the Huskies have three unproven goaltenders to the Gophers’ two.
Dahl played all three of his goaltenders versus Brandon University in Saturday’s 7-1 St. Cloud victory, and all three played well.
But Dahl has decided to go with the little experience he’s got in goal for St. Cloud State’s WCHA opener Friday night.
“(I’ll be starting) Scott Meyer. He’s a sophomore,” Dahl said. “He’s at least been in the building before. It’ll be the least amount of confusion. Both freshman have done a pretty good job, but you never know until you see them in a game.”
Woog will go with freshman Adam Hauser on Friday night at Mariucci. Hauser will be making his third start of the season for the Gophers and will look to continue improving his play.
“I just have to keep standing up, being aggressive with the puck,” Hauser said. “Not backing down when guys are not coming in and getting in a hole. I can’t dig myself a hole.”
The Gophers have won two of their last three games, relying on clutch scoring and timely hitting.
“I’ve watched them on TV. Reggie (Berg) and Wyatt (Smith) are rocking and rolling,” Dahl said. “They are improved over last year.”
St. Cloud might be banged, bruised and starting a relatively untested goaltender, but Minnesota can’t overlook this team as they approach murderer’s row the next three weeks.
“You know, I think it’s very important, but you also have to take it one game at a time,” Hauser said. “You can’t look forward because you’ll lose sight of what’s in front of you. You really have to buckle down and concentrate each week. You know that the game’s going to be tough.”