Leaky defense in need of plugs this weekend

Chris Lempesis

Before last weekend’s series with Wisconsin, Minnesota men’s hockey coach Don Lucia said the performance of the team’s defense was going to be far more important than the performance of the offense.

He was right ” although not in the way he’d hoped.

The Gophers’ defense struggled throughout the two games and was a key reason the Badgers earned their first sweep at Mariucci Arena since 2000.

“What jumped out at me (when watching the game film) was some of the colossal mistakes we made,” Lucia said. “It was kind of one individual at a time that would break down, and this is a team sport. We can’t have four guys doing their job and one guy not doing their job, and that’s kind of what happened last weekend.”

No. 8 Minnesota (7-5-4, 6-4-2 WCHA) was subpar in a laundry list of areas against the top-ranked Badgers.

The Gophers’ defense committed too many turnovers, missed too many backchecks and too often just plain failed to adequately cover Wisconsin players in the defensive zone.

Most of the Badgers’ goals came from Minnesota’s failures in one or more of these areas. Assistant coach Mike Guentzel said the defensive turnovers were especially crippling.

“We played right into (Wisconsin’s) game when we turned the puck over,” he said.

The defense was poor, no doubt, in these aspects, but players and coaches said it’s not fair to just criticize the team’s six defensemen who played in the series.

Senior forward Andy Sertich said the forwards were also responsible for the defensive showing. He said the forwards often failed to come back and aid the defensemen.

Sertich also said that most of the defensive mistakes stemmed from problems in the mental area of the game. And, for the most part, his teammates agreed.

“I don’t think throughout the whole weekend (the effort) was there,” senior defenseman Chris Harrington said. “I think at times it was there, and if you’re going to take a shift off against a team like (Wisconsin), you’re going to be in trouble.”

Lack of necessary effort has been a problem, not just for the defense, but for the entire team for much of the season. But the lack of defensive effort was especially noticeable against Wisconsin.

Despite the fact that the Gophers’ defense turned in this kind of effort at home against their biggest rival ” who also happens to be the No. 1 team in the country ” the team isn’t overly concerned.

“I think we know what we’re capable of and what we’re supposed to do,” Harrington said. “It’s just a matter of doing it.”

Still, the defense didn’t get it done last weekend against Wisconsin and the challenge will be just as difficult this weekend.

Minnesota heads to Grand Forks, N.D., to take on another big rival, North Dakota. The Fighting Sioux are ranked fifth in the nation.

For the Gophers to avoid another sweep, the defense will have to be strong.

Or at least, stronger.

“Sometimes those guys back there have to kind of dig in,” Lucia said. “That’s what we’re going to see if they can do this weekend.”