Special teams to be tested as Gophers play home-and-home against Mankato

Sophomore goaltender Alex Kangas watched his first game of the season from the bench Friday night as the Gophers tied 2-2.

Paul Bangasser

Sophomore goaltender Alex Kangas watched his first game of the season from the bench Friday night as the Gophers tied 2-2.

The Minnesota menâÄôs hockey teamâÄôs nation-leading penalty killing unit will be put to the test this weekend in a home-and-home series with Minnesota State this weekend. Friday nightâÄôs 7:30 p.m. game will be the Gophers first trip back to Mankato since last yearâÄôs memorable Western Collegiate Hockey Association First Round Playoff that saw five overtime periods over three games. SaturdayâÄôs home game is slated for a 6 p.m. faceoff. âÄúIf [these teams] play 60 minutes, itâÄôs an oddity,âÄù Gophers assistant coach Mike Hastings said, adding that this weekend had playoff implications for both teams. A sweep for the Gophers could possibly bump the team into first place in the conference, while a sweep for Minnesota State could put the Mavericks on track for home ice in the playoffs. And although Minnesota State (13-7-6 overall, 7-6-5 WCHA) was swept last weekend by Minnesota-Duluth, Hastings said Minnesota is taking nothing for granted. âÄúI think we learned something from the [North Dakota] series,âÄù Hastings said. âÄúEverybody gets pumped up to play the Gophers.âÄù Minnesota (12-5-5, 9-4-3) will have to watch its aggressiveness in order to limit the Mavericks power-play chances according to coach Don Lucia. âÄúWeâÄôre taking too many penalties,âÄù Lucia said of his team, which is ranked second in the league in penalty minutes per game behind Wisconsin. âÄúPenalties happen over the course of a game, and you just hope you donâÄôt take stupid penalties,âÄù junior forward Tony Lucia said. âÄúAs long as theyâÄôre aggressive, youâÄôre moving your feet, and youâÄôre not in the offensive zone, youâÄôre taking good penalties.âÄù The Gophers will be put to the test by a Mavericks squad that ranks fourth in the conference while on the power-play. Minnesota State, which has lost 10 of its last 13, has a conversion rate of 19.4 with 30 power-play goals this season. But Minnesota leads the nation with a 91.4 percent kill rate, and the Gophers are on pace to set a new school record in the category. âÄúOur penalty kill has been so good, it really hasnâÄôt been that big of an issue,âÄù Tony Lucia said. âÄúWeâÄôve been able to bail ourselves out every time and hopefully that will continue.âÄù In 2000-01, the Gophers killed 88.5 percent of their penalties. Earlier this season, the Gophers tied Minnesota State 3-3 on Nov. 1 at Mariucci Arena before handling the Mavericks 6-3 the next night at the Xcel Energy Center as part of the Minnesota Hockey Showcase.