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First-half finale to test Gophers’ defense

Colorado College is one of the nation’s top offensive teams.
Minnesota forward Nate Condon steals the puck from Omaha on Saturday night versus Omaha at Mariucci Arena.
Image by Bridget Bennett
Minnesota forward Nate Condon steals the puck from Omaha on Saturday night versus Omaha at Mariucci Arena.

Colorado College boasts the No. 2 scoring offense in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association. But it allows a lot of goals, too.

Minnesota will travel to Colorado Springs, Colo., this weekend for its last WCHA series with the Tigers.

The No. 4 Gophers have owned the series with No. 19 Colorado College historically with a 161-85-7 record. The two teams split a pair of games last season at Mariucci Arena.

Colorado College lost its best scorer, Jaden Schwartz, in the offseason, but several players have helped replace his production.

Through 16 games, the Tigers have averaged 3.69 goals per contest.

“Guys that didn’t score last year are having the best years of their career,” Gophers head coach Don Lucia said. “They’re scoring at a real high clip right now.”

Colorado College’s defense is a different story.

The Tigers rank second-to-last in the WCHA in scoring defense. Their 3.44 goals-against average is better than only Michigan Tech.

“I think it’s a little bit of an aberration,” Lucia said. “Usually they’re very good defensively.”

Lucia said Minnesota’s foundation is goaltending, defense and special teams. He said that must continue, especially on the road.

Both teams’ power plays rank in the top three in the WCHA. Minnesota has the top-ranked penalty kill, while the Tigers’ is ranked 11th in the 12-team conference.

The Gophers (10-3-2, 5-3-2 WCHA) will roll into Colorado Springs basically healthy. Only backup goalie Michael Shibrowski, who has an undisclosed injury, is out.

Lucia said the flu has been going around the locker room but said he expects everyone to be available this weekend.

First-half wrap-up

Following its series with Colorado College, Minnesota will take a couple of weeks off before returning to action for the Mariucci Classic in late December.

Minnesota had an up-and-down first half, especially considering its high ranking.

“Our overall record is good,” Lucia said. “There are areas of our game that we have to continue to strive and improve at.”

Lucia said the team is trying to concentrate on starting games well.

“When we’ve … had a good first 10 minutes, it usually bodes well for us having a successful evening,” he said.

Gophers players and coaches have admitted many times this season that the team isn’t playing up to its potential.

“I do still think that there’s another gear we have the opportunity to get to,” Lucia said. “If we’re going to get to that, I think we have some individual players that have to get to another level.”

Reilly, Skjei make U.S. preliminary roster

USA Hockey announced Tuesday that Gophers freshmen Mike Reilly and Brady Skjei made the U.S. National Junior Team’s preliminary roster.

“It was one of my goals for sure, growing up and playing in the [USA Hockey] development program,” Skjei said. “I’m really excited I made the preliminary roster but still it’s not for sure yet.”

The duo will attend a team training camp in New York that runs Dec. 16-18. Training will continue in Finland before the final roster is announced Dec. 23.

“From what I understand, they’re cutting two more [defensemen] and I think four forwards,” Skjei said. “I just need to play my best and see what happens.”

The 2013 International Hockey Federation World Junior Championship will run from Dec. 26 to Jan. 5 in Ufa, Russia.

Reilly has one goal and seven assists this season. Skjei has one goal and one assist.

Gophers assistant coach Grant Potulny will serve as an assistant to U.S. head coach Phil Housley at this year’s championships.

Don Lucia’s son Mario, who plays for Notre Dame, was also on the team’s preliminary roster.

“He was excited, as he should be,” Lucia said.

Wilcox earns Rookie of the Month

Freshman goaltender Adam Wilcox was named the Hockey Commissioners Association National Division I Rookie of the Month for November on Wednesday.

Wilcox had nine starts in November and posted a 5-2-2 record with a 1.75 goals-against average.

The Tampa Bay Lightning draft pick has a 9-2-2 record this season.

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