Minnesota will try to rebound in home opener

A tough task lies ahead as the Gophers host No. 4 Denver.

Minnesota will try to rebound in home opener

Max Sanders

After splitting a road series against now-No. 2 North Dakota, No. 11 Minnesota comes home to Mariucci Arena to play its first home series of the 2009-10 season. The Gophers (0-1-1) will open up their home series with a two-game set against No. 4 Denver (2-2-0). The Pioneers, preseason favorites to win the Western Collegiate Hockey Association conference, split last weekendâÄôs series with Ohio State, winning the first before losing the second against the Buckeyes. That is the second split series for the Pioneers in the season so far, as they split their opening series against Vermont . Denver is down one spot from No. 3 last week as the Gophers face their second top-five opponent in as many weeks. Minnesota knows for the second weekend in a row it has to play solid against such a talented opponent. âÄúWeâÄôre playing a very good team in Denver and a team thatâÄôs very quick and is going to be able to get up and down the rink,âÄù Gophers head coach Don Lucia said . One of the biggest struggles in last weekendâÄôs opening series for the Gophers was power plays. Minnesota gave up four power-play goals against the Sioux in the series. North Dakota added a short-handed goal during a Gophers power play. Preventing power-play goals will be a key this weekend, and Lucia sees the forwards as a big key to cracking down on the special teamâÄôs goals. âÄúFor the most part, we did a good job, but so many of the goals we gave up this past weekend were just pucks that got through from the blue line, and thatâÄôs on our group of forwards to be willing to go down and take a shot,âÄù Lucia said. âÄúItâÄôs not the easiest thing to do, and you might need a few ice-packs, but itâÄôs something you have to do if youâÄôre going to be successful.âÄù While the Gophers were shut-out in the regular season opener, fighting back to a 3-3 tie Saturday in a hostile arena gave the team confidence heading into this weekendâÄôs series. âÄúFridayâÄôs effort was unacceptable, but I think from Saturday we have a good building block to come into Friday this weekend and hopefully put forth a better effort,âÄù senior Mike Carman said. After the shut-out loss to North Dakota in the GophersâÄô regular season opener, Lucia made changes throughout the lineup, including at the goalie position. Junior Alex Kangas played the first game and allowed four goals while making 39 saves. Sophomore Kent Patterson stepped in Saturday night and stopped 31 of 34 shots. While Lucia would not disclose his plans for the goalie position during WednesdayâÄôs media conferences, he did reveal a strong chance at a repeat of last weekâÄôs goalie split, with Kangas playing the first day and Patterson the next. âÄúThereâÄôs a good chance theyâÄôre both going to play again this weekend. They earned that opportunity to play,âÄù Lucia said. âÄúMore than likely the rotation we saw last weekend will probably be similar to what you see this weekend.âÄù Other lineup changes made included sophomore Jordan Schroeder moving with senior Jay Barriball from the first to the third line for SaturdayâÄôs game. Lucia said he expects Schroeder and BarriballâÄôs line to improve play as their Gophers power play unit improves. âÄúThey can play better as a line, and I think that once the power play gets going a little bit, thatâÄôll take some of the pressure off them as far as the scoring is concerned, too,âÄù Lucia said. With his goal Saturday night, Barriball inched closer to the 100-point milestone. Now at 99, he insists his mind is focused on winning games. âÄúMy job on the team is to get points and score goals and produce,âÄù Barriball said. âÄúI feel like if I play my game, IâÄôll get to that 100-point mark.âÄù After taking a puck to the skate in the season opener, sophomore Sam Lofquist, who missed SaturdayâÄôs game, is questionable to return for this weekendâÄôs series. Lucia said Lofquist will be evaluated this week during practice, and a decision on whether he will play will be made later this week. While this is only the 2009-10 home opener, the high level of competition right from the beginning will provide the team with a measuring stick for the rest of the season. âÄúDenver is a good team,âÄù junior Mike Hoeffel said. âÄúI think going back-to-back North Dakota, Denver is going to be a good test for us, so weâÄôll prepare this week, and weâÄôll be excited for this weekend.âÄù The Gophers host Denver in a two-game series this Friday and Saturday, with both games starting at 7 p.m.