Gophers try to put skid behind them

Minnesota is 2-5-1 since returning to action after its winter break.

Gophers defensemen Brady Skjei passes the puck at Mariucci Arena on Jan. 17.

Daily File Photo, Alex Tuthill-Preus

Gophers defensemen Brady Skjei passes the puck at Mariucci Arena on Jan. 17.

by Ben Gotz

Coming off a disappointing sweep at the North Star College Cup, head coach Don Lucia searched for advice to give his team.

A week earlier, Lake Superior State swept Bemidji State. The Beavers turned things around at the NSCC, though, upsetting then-No. 1 Minnesota State-Mankato in the process.

“The weekend before they were swept at Lake State, [they] took the long bus ride home, got up Thursday morning excited to come down to the Xcel [Energy Center], and [then they] had a great weekend … and that’s a real credit to them,” Lucia said. “It just kind of shows you, when you feel good about yourself, when you’re excited to play, that’s when you play at your best.”

Lucia said he talked to his team about Bemidji State on Monday in an attempt to keep the players thinking positively, despite a 2-5-1 stretch since returning from winter break.

Some players have kept their heads down and remarks brief after recent losses. The team received another bit of bad news this week when it dropped out of the USCHO national rankings for the first time all season.

“Obviously, they’re disappointed, as we all are,” Lucia said. “That’s why Monday, I think our job, more than anything else, [was] to try get their spirits back up.”

With only the Big Ten schedule remaining, the Gophers are in danger of missing the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2011.

After beginning the season as the No. 1 team in the nation, the Gophers will need a strong finish in conference play or a Big Ten tournament championship to even crack college hockey’s final 16 teams.

“We could obviously have a lot of things that we could feel negative about, but that’s obviously just going to make things worse,” senior defenseman Ben Marshall said. “You have to be positive in times like these and when things aren’t going our way. Hopefully, that’ll boost us to play better.”

Junior defenseman Brady Skjei said the team still has plenty of skill and talent, but mental mistakes are holding them back.

“If we make mistakes, they just seem to be really big ones right now,” Skjei said. “Mistakes happen all the time in a game — hockey’s a game of mistakes — but just right now, it seems the mistakes we make, they’re amplified and they end up in goals.”

Mistakes and missed opportunities have been the Gophers’ story since returning from winter break, but Lucia has noted other silver linings, like how few shots the team has been giving up in recent games.

Lucia said after last weekend’s games he was going to highlight the positive things the team did, as well as some of the negative things, in an attempt to keep the players in the right mindset.

“For us, it’s about building up our guys, trying to get them excited, trying to make sure they understand [they’ve] got to have a smile on … when [they] come to the rink,” Lucia said.