Men’s hockey looks to stay strong on the ice

by Lou Raguse

After Minnesota’s men’s hockey team finished last weekend’s sweep against Wisconsin, the team was finally able to breathe easier. The Gophers earned a tie for third in the WCHA, with some big matchups in the coming weeks.

Coach Don Lucia gave players Tuesday off, letting them “recharge their batteries both mentally and physically.”

After going 7-1 in their last four league series, the Gophers will have to recharge to take on Bemidji State tonight to start off their last nonconference series of the season. The Beavers are having a solid season; their record stands at 15-7-2.

Although Bemidji might not carry the weight of a North Dakota or Wisconsin series, the Gophers realize they cannot take a weekend off before going into the home stretch of the WCHA season.

“We just need to keep moving forward,” Lucia said. “We need to continue doing the things we have been doing – good goaltending, playing well defensively, not giving up many shots.”

Bemidji, in only its fifth season playing Division I hockey, has a strong school history of hockey at different levels, and coach Tom Serratore said playing nationally ranked teams no longer fazes his players.

“We are used to it by now,” Serratore said. “Minnesota is the premiere team in the state and in the country, so there will be a little more urgency for our players than most games, but we have to take it just like any other.”

Serratore’s biggest concern is playing on the Olympic-sized ice at Mariucci Arena. The Beavers’ arena measures 200 by 85 feet, while Mariucci’s ice sheet is 200 by 100.

Last season was Bemidji’s first .500 finish. This year, the Beavers lead the College Hockey America conference with a 12-2 mark.

In November, Bemidji posted a 3-1 win over now No. 6 Minnesota-Duluth.

Although the Gophers are 4-0 all-time against the Beavers and have outscored them 28-7, they realize they cannot go lightly into this series.

“The ball’s really rolling right now,” Gophers defenseman Judd Stevens said. “If we want to keep it going into the playoffs, we can’t take a step back.”

Lucia said he likely will use players who have not seen much ice time lately, such as Mike Vannelli, Brett MacKinnon, Joey Martin and goaltender Justin Johnson.

Lucia did not say who he will rest this series, although forward Thomas Vanek wore a medical jersey during practice Wednesday.

“In a nonconference game, we sometimes have a tendency to get out of focus,” senior Matt Koalska said. “We just need to play like we have been – like it’s North Dakota or Wisconsin.”

Defenseman verbals

Alex Goligoski, a senior defenseman at Lucia’s high school alma mater of Grand Rapids, Minn., verbally committed to Minnesota last Sunday, planning to sign during the April signing period, his mother confirmed Thursday.

Paula Goligoski said it is unclear whether he will join the team next season or spend time in juniors first. If Gophers junior Keith Ballard – property of the Colorado Avalanche – opts to the NHL next season, Alex will come to Minnesota without spending time at the junior level, she said.

It is also unclear what junior hockey team Goligoski would join. Last year he played in Omaha, but was recently added to the Sioux Falls roster. Both teams are in the USHL.

Goligoski has notched 20 goals and 18 assists through 20 games this season.