A lot up in the air for Gophers heading into weekend

Minnesota has the potential to finish the year fourth or ninth in the conference.

The spectrum is wide open for the Minnesota men’s hockey team as they go into the final week of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association season.

The Gophers could potentially finish as high as fourth or as low as ninth – giving seventh-place Minnesota a lot to play for this weekend.

“The only thing we can control is trying to get to seventh place, lock that in and keep the other teams behind us,” Gophers coach Don Lucia said.

Gaining ground on the competition might be arduous for the Gophers.

Even with a sweep this weekend over Minnesota-Duluth, Minnesota will need both St. Cloud State and Minnesota State to be swept in order to guarantee a home ice advantage in the playoffs.

“That’s the way we’re going to approach this weekend. Nothing less than four points is acceptable,” senior forward Ben Gordon said. “We have to come out and have a good game on Friday to set ourselves up for a good weekend.”

Kangas earns honor

Minnesota freshman goaltender Alex Kangas picked up his second WCHA Rookie of the Week award after the Gophers earned three conference points against Alaska-Anchorage on the road.

“I think playing every night has given me some confidence and I’ve got into a bit of a rhythm. It’s a little bit easier to play every night than it is to play once every other weekend,” Kangas said. “You’re able to go out there and do things that you’ve had success doing in the past and kind of get the snowball effect.”

Kangas previously won the award in mid-January after his performance against Minnesota-Duluth, who the Gophers will take on again this weekend in their final series of the regular season.

Colorado College senior defenseman Jack Hillen picked up the conference’s offensive nod after scoring two goals and adding two assists in the Tigers 5-2 win over Minnesota State last Friday.

Hillen leads all Division-I defenseman in points with 32 this season, 27 of those being assists – the most in the WCHA.

North Dakota senior goalie Jean-Phillipe Lamoureux earned the Defensive Player of Week award after guiding the Sioux to two wins at Minnesota-Duluth.

Lamoureux stopped 50-of-51 shots on goal as North Dakota jumped to No. 1 in the nation.

UND, CC vie for Cup

The battle for the MacNaughton Cup will likely go down to the wire this year as, like everything else in the WCHA this season, the race for the title is extremely close.

Current conference leader and fifth-ranked Colorado College will try to maintain its two-point lead in the standings when the Tigers play a home-and-home series with Denver this weekend.

But top-ranked North Dakota is right on their heels, riding a national best 15-game unbeaten streak.

Colorado College can clinch at least a share of the conference title with a loss by the Sioux, who take on St. Cloud State this weekend on the road.

Un-Barriball

As of yesterday, sophomore forward Jay Barriball is still labeled as questionable for this weekend after re-injuring his ankle against Alaska-Anchorage.

Barriball has been skating in practice this week, according to Lucia, but the ninth-year coach wants last year’s team scoring leader to be healthy for the playoffs – even if that means taking this weekend off.