Home ice on the line at Mariucci Arena

by Lou Raguse

After a stale series in Denver last weekend, Minnesota’s men’s hockey players realized they needed a kick in the butt.

They got it on Monday in practice, as coaches administered intense battling and skating drills throughout the session.

“It was necessary,” forward Barry Tallackson said.

Defenseman Judd Stevens agreed.

“We got worked, and we needed it,” Stevens said. “Guys were going hard, battling with each other, but in the end we’re all teammates and family. I think it helped us.”

The Gophers said they hope the intensity from practice carries over to tonight’s game against St. Cloud State. It’s the last regular-season series of the year, and if Minnesota fails to claim home ice for the playoffs, it will be the last two games in Mariucci Arena for Minnesota’s seniors.

But at this point, Gophers players are more concerned with putting together two solid games than they are with clinching the home ice.

“We’ve gotten to the point where home ice is important, but we just need to start playing well,” Stevens said. “If we do that, everything will fall into place.”

The Gophers have a good opportunity to do so against St. Cloud State. The Huskies are coming off a weekend equally as unsuccessful as the Gophers’ – losing to Colorado College 7-1 and 5-2 on their home ice.

Huskies coach Craig Dahl said everything that could go wrong did in last Friday’s game but saw an improved effort Saturday despite the score ññ similar to the Gophers’ effort in Denver.

“We just need to play a good team game this weekend,” Dahl said. “We have a certain style to play to be successful, but we’ve gotten away from that recipe to success lately.”

The recipe starts with great goaltending, and Dahl said he will be looking for strong performances from junior Adam Coole and freshman Tim Boron.

The Gophers said they are also looking for an improved series in the net from the Denver series where Kellen Briggs and Justin Johnson allowed six goals in each game to the Pioneers.

Minnesota will be missing forwards Jon Waibel and Garrett Smaagaard for the series as they are battling injuries.

Coach Don Lucia will also be absent from the Gophers’ bench after surgery to fuse vertebrae Tuesday. Lucia will likely view the game from the press box, the team said Wednesday.

Assistant coach Mike Guentzel said with Minnesota’s coaching philosophy, the team should still be adequately prepared.

“Once we get Friday’s preparing out of the way at two o’clock, our philosophy here is to let the players play and decide the game,” Guentzel said. “We’re going to keep a consistent nature to our business here and hopefully not use any of the distractions to our disadvantage.”

Tallackson said to avoid distractions, the Gophers just need to concentrate on playing a full game the way they are capable of.

“There’s no doubt in my mind that if we put together a solid 60 minutes, we’ll come out with the win,” he said.