Gophers take on Michigan Tech in final series before a two-week hiatus

Mark Remme

Snow is expected to fall en masse on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula this weekend, but Minnesota’s men’s hockey team hopes the winter chill won’t cool down college hockey’s hottest team.

The top-ranked Gophers, riding a nation-best 16-game unbeaten streak, will take on Michigan Tech in a Western Collegiate Hockey Association showdown in Houghton, Mich., today and Saturday. Both games are set for 6:07 p.m.

Last weekend, Minnesota earned a defensively-sound, 2-1 win at Minnesota State-Mankato on Saturday after surrendering a two-goal lead in the third period at home the night before for a 5-5 tie. That recovery seems to underscore the Gophers’ apparent ability to play more consistent hockey on the road this season.

Junior defenseman Derek Peltier summed up Minnesota’s play on the road – where the team sits at a 5-0-1 on the year

– to sometimes playing more cautiously with the puck instead of trying to do too much, like it does in front of fired-up Mariucci crowds.

But he said this road trip might be important for momentum in a different way, considering the team will not play again until the Dodge Holiday Classic on Dec. 29 and 30.

“We want to leave it all on the ice,” Peltier said. “We don’t want to sit around for two weeks thinking about mistakes.”

And the last series before the break comes on the road against a Michigan Tech team that, despite being swept by St. Cloud State last weekend, has fared well on its home rink.

Michigan Tech coach Jamie Russell said he respects the Gophers – especially their ability to score on the power play – but said his team is prepared to defend its 4-2-2 home record.

“If you can’t get up to play the top-ranked team, something’s wrong with you,” he said. “We need to come out and play our game – we’re a blue collar, scrappy team.”

Russell said one of the biggest assets his team possesses is its ability to stay out of the penalty box, which he said bodes well considering Minnesota (13-1-3 overall, 7-0-3 WCHA) scored five power-play goals last Friday alone.

Gophers coach Don Lucia views the Huskies (6-6-2, 3-5-2) as stronger on defense than anything else.

“They’re giving up an average of 21 (shots) a game,” Lucia said. “We’re going to have to bring the lunch pails this weekend if we’re going to score goals because we aren’t going to be able to make pretty plays up and down the rink – we need to win net-front battles, tips and deflections.”

Freshman forward Ryan Flynn said getting traffic in front of the net this weekend might be that much more intense, because Minnesota will not only be battling Michigan Tech, but also the Huskies’ notoriously extreme fans.

“You get fired up by the (opposing) crowd – them throwing gestures or whatever – it definitely fuels the fire a little bit,” Flynn said. “You’re protecting the ‘M’ on your jersey – there’s a little extra enthusiasm.”

Notes

ï Sophomore defenseman R.J. Anderson, sidelined since mid-November after undergoing an emergency appendectomy, is expected to play at least one game this weekend against the Huskies.

ï After playing senior goalie Kellen Briggs in both games last weekend, Lucia said as of Wednesday that he expects his regular rotation of Briggs and sophomore netminder Jeff Frazee to return against Michigan Tech.

ï Senior forward Tyler Hirsch missed both games last weekend due to a less-than-acceptable practice performance during the week. Lucia said he expects Hirsch to be in the lineup this weekend.