Gophers will try to rebound against Alaska Anchorage

Mark Remme

The road to the MacNaughton Cup might – for the time being -go through defending, regular-season champion and conference-leading Minnesota, but that road won’t lead through Minneapolis anytime soon.

The third-ranked Gophers begin a five-game road trip this weekend, starting with Western Collegiate Hockey Association foe Alaska Anchorage.

Friday’s contest starts at 10:37 p.m. CST while Saturday’s game begins at 10:07 p.m. CST.

Minnesota (21-5-3 overall, 13-4-3 WCHA) won’t see a Mariucci crowd until its final three games of the regular season, which begin Feb. 24.

With the recent slide on home ice – losing three of its past four games – maybe a road trip is just what the doctor ordered.

But freshman defenseman David Fischer said the most important mark on the to-do list against the Seawolves (11-12-3, 7-12-1) is returning to a turnover-free, physical brand of hockey.

“It starts in practice, our attitude and how we are upstairs,” Fischer said. “It also comes down to committing to the concepts and the game plans that we’ve done in the first half of the season.”

The Gophers began the regular season using their physical strength as a force – a facet of the game the team received criticism for in past years.

Team members alluded to having a “chip on their shoulders” earlier in the year and wanting to prove they can play that physical-style hockey in conference play.

They succeeded for much of the first half, but recently that grittiness seemed to disappear.

“We need to get back to playing gritty hockey – we’ve gotten away from that a little bit,” coach Don Lucia said. “Now, there might be some bumps and bruises that go with it, but if you’re going to score goals in this time of year you’ve gotta get into those dirty areas.”

Sophomore center Blake Wheeler said doing so means moving the puck more fluently and not taking on as many one-on-one battles.

Fischer added that getting pucks in the net and finding those garbage-goal rebounds will help get the offensive prowess on the right track.

“When you’re having a drought like this, it’s not the pretty goals that will get you out of it,” Fischer said. “It’s the ugly ones that will get you out of that slump.”

Adding to the timeliness of an offensive turnaround is the recent drop in national polls. The Gophers are not No. 1 for the first time in just over two months.

But given the near-flawless record Minnesota earned in the first half of the season, the team isn’t sweating the drop.

In fact, Wheeler said it’s an extra incentive to find that winning touch from the first half.

“It’s alright to get bumped off the wagon a little bit because we’ll have to take it upon ourselves to get back on,” Wheeler said. “Adversity is a good thing.”

Kaufmann, Pohl honored

Junior forwards Evan Kaufmann and Tom Pohl were named as part of 49 WCHA Scholar-Athlete Award athletes for the 2006-07 season. Kaufmann also took home the honor last year.

Scholar-Athlete Award recipients must have completed one academic year in their home institution and must have either a 3.5 grade point average on a 4.0 scale for the current academic year or cumulatively.

The Scholar-Athlete Award is given to 49 men and women hockey players in the WCHA. It is the second year the award was given.