Gophers haven’t forgotten last trip to St. Cloud

David La

After a lackluster effort resulted in a 5-0 loss against visiting St. Cloud State late last season, the Minnesota men’s hockey team was subjected to a 45-minute dressing-down in the locker room.
Coach Don Lucia, along with assistant coaches and former Gophers Mike Guentzel and Robb Stauber, bluntly reminded the Minnesota players of the program’s tradition and values.
“We played horrible,” Lucia said this week. “I thought our effort was embarrassing. The next night we were short but we played hard and inspired.”
Lucia took his disciplinary action one step further, scratching three then-seniors and sophomore Nick Angell from the following night’s lineup in St. Cloud.
For Angell, being a stay-at-home defenseman took on a whole different meaning.
Angell worked his way back into the lineup in time to accompany the Gophers to Colorado College for the first round of the playoffs.
“There was some self-reflection I needed to do,” Angell said. “Obviously I wasn’t happy about being left home, but sometimes it’s good to look back at what you have and have not accomplished, and what you want to accomplish. But it was a good experience. It was the start of good things to come.”
Minnesota gutted out two close wins against the Tigers, including a 3-2 overtime victory in the second game to advance to the WCHA Final Five.
Clearly refocused, the Gophers were just not talented enough in some areas and too fuzzy-cheeked in others. Minnesota beat Minnesota State the following week, but dropped tilts with Wisconsin and St. Cloud State to end a mediocre season.
In many ways, last season was one in which the Gophers played with an eye on the future.
Only two seniors, captain Nate Miller and Dave Spehar, played in 30 or more games. Conversely, five freshmen reached the same benchmark. The senior class contributed 59 points — all but five coming from Miller and Spehar — while the newcomers registered 74 points.
“Normally your seniors are playing a lot,” Lucia said, “but we went with the players who we felt gave us the best chance to win last year. Also, the thought was, all things being equal, let’s play the younger guys and next year will be better for it. I think you’re seeing some of that.”
Two players clearly benefiting from large helpings of playing time a year ago are center Jeff Taffe and defenseman Matt DeMarchi.
Lucia praised DeMarchi’s impact in Minnesota’s sweep of Wisconsin two weeks ago. DeMarchi was key in holding All-America forward Dany Heatley to a measly one assist in two games.
Taffe is fourth on the team with 13 points after notching 20 last year. He and freshman Troy Riddle headline a tremendously productive third line. The potent pair have nailed 11 goals and 11 assists between them.
Taffe said he felt a little animosity from the seniors who played in the freshmen’s wake last season.
“If you’re not playing you’re going to be mad,” Taffe said. “But it has really helped our team this year. The fast start we’re off to is due to that experience.”
The Gophers (7-1-2) play a home-at-home series with No. 6 St. Cloud State this weekend. The Huskies shut Minnesota out of the win column last season, going 4-0-1 in five meetings.
This season, the Gophers look to redeem themselves with improvements in both talent and attitude.
“We do have to be reminded from time to time that we are part of something a lot bigger than just the 20 guys in the locker room,” assistant captain Dylan Mills said. “You don’t want those guys that have played before you sitting there disappointed with what you’re doing because you’re not giving 100 percent.”

David La Vaque covers men’s hockey and welcomes comments at [email protected]