Gophers host Mich. Tech in final game before break

Minnesota will have 20 days off after this series with the Huskies.

Kyle Rau plays hard against Minnesota State Friday night at Mariucci Arena. The Gophers' claimed victory leading 3-2.

Moira DuCharme, Daily File Photo

Kyle Rau plays hard against Minnesota State Friday night at Mariucci Arena. The Gophers’ claimed victory leading 3-2.

Dane Mizutani

Minnesota will conclude the first half of the 2011-12 season with a team it has bullied as of late: Michigan Tech.

The Gophers swept the Huskies twice last season and have won the last seven games between the two teams.

This year, however, Michigan Tech could serve as more of a road block than the usual doormat for the Gophers.

The Huskies have vastly improved from last season, when they finished with an overall record of 4-30-4. TheyâÄôre off to an 8-7-1 start and were ranked as recently as last week before getting swept by Minnesota-Duluth.

 âÄúMichigan Tech has really got a good team this year,âÄù freshman Seth Ambroz said. âÄúTheyâÄôre winning games. It will be a fun competitive series and hopefully we come out on top.âÄù

Michigan Tech swept then-No. 18 Wisconsin on Oct. 14-15 and split a series with then-No. 2 Denver two weeks later.

The Huskies started the season 5-2-1 and their No. 16 national ranking was the first since Oct. 24, 2007 under first-year head coach Mel Pearson.

Michigan Tech (8-7-1, 5-6-1 WCHA) is currently tied for sixth in the league with 11 points.

Brett Olson and Jordan Baker lead the Huskies on offense with 17 and 13 points, respectively. They also return Ryan Furne and Milos Gordic, who led the team in scoring last season as freshmen.

Gordic leads Michigan Tech with seven goals on the season, but has yet to record an assist.

No. 2 Minnesota (13-4-1, 10-2-0 WCHA) enters the series seemingly having regained its swagger after a sweep of Minnesota State last weekend.

It was the GophersâÄô first sweep in nearly a month and kept them atop the WCHA, with rival Minnesota-Duluth closing fast.

âÄúWe just kind of found a way to get two points each night,âÄù defenseman Nate Schmidt said. âÄúThat was the biggest thing for us âÄî two wins is two wins.

âÄúWeâÄôre going to need those points, especially with UMD playing the way they are right now.âÄù

Forward Zach Budish played a pivotal role in earning the sweep and has now recorded a point in five straight games.

He plays on the first line with Nick Bjugstad and Kyle Rau and credited his linemates for his recent success.

âÄúItâÄôs fun to play with those two but as a line, weâÄôre starting to click and know where each other is going to be without even looking,âÄù Budish said. âÄúItâÄôs been 18 games now together and we practice every day together so weâÄôre starting to get comfortable.âÄù

The Gophers also improved their home record to 8-1-0 on the season with the sweep last weekend. They were 9-10-3 at Mariucci Arena last year.

âÄúOne of our goals at the start of the year âĦ was that we wanted to protect home ice as much as possible,âÄù Schmidt said. âÄúItâÄôs gotten away from us the last couple years. ThatâÄôs one of the biggest things âÄî getting in front of the home fans and performing the way we know we can.âÄù

Despite sweeping Minnesota State, the Gophers struggled on the penalty kill. The Mavericks converted on three power-play opportunities in that series.

âÄúWeâÄôre going to work on our specialties much more this week,âÄù head coach Don Lucia said. âÄúWeâÄôll spend three days working on our penalty kill and thatâÄôs something we have to clean up âÄî Michigan Tech has a good power play.âÄù

The Huskies possess the seventh-ranked power play unit in the WCHA and have netted 15 power-play goals on the season.

The Gophers will start a 20-day stretch without a game after this series with Michigan Tech, which will mark the midway point in the season.

Budish said it is important to build momentum heading into the extended break.

âÄúThis weekend weâÄôre just focused on getting four points, taking that momentum into break and then going from there,âÄù Budish said. âÄúIf you would have told me that this is our record in the league and overall at this point in the season, I probably would have taken it, but with that being said weâÄôre definitely not satisfied.âÄù

Minnesota will host the Mariucci Classic on Dec. 30-31 and the Hall of Fame Game against Notre Dame on Jan. 7.