Minnesota hopes for flipped script at Kohl

Minnesota was swept by Wisconsin at home in December. The Badgers host now.

Chris Lempesis

Since a humbling sweep at the hands of Wisconsin at home in early December ” by scores 4-3 and 4-0 ” Minnesota’s men’s hockey team has been on a tear.

The Gophers have racked up a 9-1-0 record and perhaps are playing their best hockey of the season. But just as Minnesota has finally begun to look like the team everyone thought they could be before the season, here come the Badgers again.

Fourth-ranked Minnesota (16-6-4, 11-5-2 Western Collegiate Hockey Association) gets a chance this weekend to see how much it really has grown since the first time the teams met. The Gophers will head to Madison, Wis., for a two-game set with second-ranked Wisconsin (18-4-2, 13-3-2) at the Kohl Center. Game times are set for 7:07 p.m. Friday and Saturday.

“The most important thing is we just need to play better than we did the first time,” coach Don Lucia said. “I didn’t feel like we really gave ourselves a chance to win in those games. Wisconsin’s clearly the superior team and we’ll see if we’ve closed the gap at all.”

One area the Gophers have shown marked improvement in since the first series is team hustle. This improvement has been a big factor in the team’s recent winning ways.

According to senior forward and team captain Gino Guyer, the first series with Wisconsin played a huge part in the Gophers’ growth in this department.

“That’s what we learned from Wisconsin when they came here,” Guyer said. “They play their systems so well. Guys did their own jobs. I think we looked a lot at ourselves after that weekend and said, “That’s why they’re being successful right now, and that’s what we have to do.’ “

While Minnesota might be more stacked in the overall talent department, junior forward Danny Irmen said hard work will be much more crucial this weekend.

“We just want to go there and work as hard as we can and not rely on talent,” Irmen said. “We relied too much on talent when they came here.”

One facet of the game in which Minnesota didn’t rely on enough in the first series was overall intelligence.

The Gophers have definitely played smarter since then. They have lessened their turnovers and been in better positions on both ends of the ice ” especially defensively.

Mental lapses were a killer in the first series, and Lucia said continued upgrades in that area are more important this weekend than anywhere else.

Hard work and intelligence will more than likely be the biggest factors in the outcomes of the games this weekend.

And if the Gophers can bring enough in these two key areas, they could be the ones doing the humbling this weekend.

“We want to set the bar high because that’s what they did to us (the first time), and they kind of embarrassed us,” Guyer said.

“We want to see where we stand right now.”