Gophers drop in national polls, conference race tightens

The Huskies are three points behind Minnesota in the conference standings.

by Mark Remme

One sweep of North Dakota’s broom and the Minnesota men’s hockey team fell from atop the college hockey world where it had been for nine weeks.

The third-ranked Gophers watched No. 1 New Hampshire and No. 2 Notre Dame play leapfrog after Minnesota dropped 5-3 and 7-3 decisions to the Sioux last weekend.

The Gophers have dropped four of their past six games.

With a trip to Alaska Anchorage on the docket for Friday and Saturday, Minnesota (21-5-3 overall, 13-4-3 WCHA) will need to change its recent losing ways in order to improve on its now three-point advantage over second-place St. Cloud State in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association standings.

It might be the weekend to do it, because with Colorado College and the Huskies coming up in the Gophers’ next four games, Minnesota must take advantage of the sputtering Seawolves – 1-4-1 in their past 6 games – to maintain their conference lead.

“I don’t think there’s a team in our league right now that looks at their schedule and thinks they have an easy schedule from here on out,” Gophers coach Don Lucia said. “The games are tight, they can go either way and they hinge on a big play.”

Alaska Anchorage (11-12-3, 7-12-1) sits tied for eighth in the WCHA standings with Minnesota State, 14 points behind the Gophers.

St. Cloud State is idle this weekend, but plays Colorado College on Feb. 9-10 during Minnesota’s bye week.

Tigers blow opportunity

Just nine points behind a struggling Gophers team in the WCHA standings, Colorado College entered last weekend’s series with Michigan Tech in prime position to make up ground.

Things didn’t go smoothly.

The 15th-ranked Tigers lost and tied the Huskies and, coupled with Minnesota’s losses to the Sioux, are still eight points behind the Gophers.

Colorado College coach Scott Owens said he realizes his team missed an opportunity to gain pivotal conference points.

“All in all, it was a disappointing weekend,” Owens said.

Skille lifts Badgers

Wisconsin has had a rough go of it offensively this year, but it’s got a silky-smooth sophomore forward itching to change that down the stretch.

Jack Skille, a native of Madison, Wis., notched a hat trick in the Badgers’ 4-1 victory over Minnesota State on Saturday, one night after the Mavericks upended Wisconsin at Kohl Center.

Badgers coach Mike Eaves said it’s not a coincidence Wisconsin has a winning record with Skille in the lineup and a losing record without him.

Skille missed 11 games early in the season after suffering a hyperextended elbow against North Dakota on Oct. 13 and four games while playing in the World Junior Championships.

He’s compiled 10 points in 11 games played and seems to make them count on the biggest stages.

Eaves said Skille has the ability to be a difference-maker, especially in high-profile games.

Skille notched four points in three games against the Sioux earlier this season and assisted on both goals in Wisconsin’s 2-1 victory over Minnesota on Jan. 12, snapping the Gophers school-record 22-game unbeaten streak.

“I think he relishes in those big games,” Eaves said. “He rises to the challenge and he has the physical abilities to play in those games.”