Gophers’ fourth-liners compete

by Megan Ryan

The Gophers men’s hockey team is one of the top programs in the nation, so competition for playing time is fierce.

Jostling for position isn’t for first-line starting spots, though. It’s for a spot on the fourth line.

Minnesota has struggled all season to find a consistent and productive forward trio on the last line. But in the last series against Michigan, the team seems to have found something that works.

Gophers freshmen Vinni Lettieri and Gabe Guertler and redshirt freshman Connor Reilly combined for two goals on the weekend.

And with that productive comeback series, the three have earned their spots back in the lineup — for one more game, at least.

“I think that’s only fair that they’ve earned the right to play in the game on Friday,” head coach Don Lucia said.

Lucia said those three players made the leap ahead and were a large part of the wins — not only through scoring but also through zone time.

Guertler said he was proud of the way his fourth line played two weeks ago, especially since they aren’t as experienced together.

“We haven’t really played too much together this year — maybe a few games,” Guertler said.

Still, even after a successful two-game stretch, Guertler said he knows his playing time isn’t guaranteed.

“If you don’t have a good game, or you’re not doing something right, you’re most likely going to be taken out,” he said.

Guertler said Lucia would have pulled all three forwards and switched them out after the first game last series if they didn’t perform. And while that pressure is always in the back of his head, he said he understands his coach’s objective.

“He’s trying to find the three guys that he wants to actually stay in the lineup,” Guertler said, “because he doesn’t want to have to keep rotating.”

Minnesota sophomore forward A.J. Michaelson is one of the forwards competing for a fourth-line position. He said the cutthroat nature is a good thing for the team.

“It kind of sparked us, got us ready to play,” he said. “It’s good pressure that everyone’s putting on each other.”

And whoever can produce under the stress gets to play under the lights.