Gophers travel to Alaska, where the Frontier lies

Mike Mullen

After an hour delay at the airport, Minnesota men’s hockey team left for a six-hour flight to Anchorage, Alaska, on Wednesday, flying west over three time zones.

One would think this might leave the team a bit jet-lagged, but being on Alaska time gave some Gophers a pleasant surprise the next morning.

“(Thursday) most of the guys woke up at 6 or 7 (a.m.), because that’s what they’re used to,” center Ryan Potulny said. “So we got to go back to sleep for a few hours. It’s nice to get here earlier, so we get some time to get used to (the time change).”

Minnesota (1-0-0) made the journey to Anchorage – its longest road trip of the season – for the Nye Frontier Classic, a four-team tournament that has the Gophers playing Massachusetts (1-0-0) at 8:07 p.m.

Host team Alaska-Anchorage and Canisius make up the other side of the bracket. The third-place game is scheduled for 7:07 p.m. on Saturday, with the championship to follow.

The Gophers opened their season with a 5-2 win over Denver on Saturday, thanks in large part to goaltender Kellen Briggs’ career-high 32 saves. The win improved the netminder’s record in his last 10 games to 9-1-0 dating back to last season.

Briggs, who was named WCHA defensive player of the week Monday, said he wasn’t worried by the extra work he got.

“I’m really comfortable with that number (32),” Briggs said of his personal record. “That’s really not that many saves for a career high. (Our defensemen) do things that cut down on how many shots teams get.”

After the win over Denver, the Gophers moved up four spots in the USA Today/USA Hockey rankings, jumping from No. 7 to No. 3. None of the other teams in the Nye Frontier Classic are currently ranked. Massachusetts won its first game of the season, winning 6-4 at home against Clarkson.

As of Thursday, Potulny said that while he knew Massachusetts won its first game, he couldn’t be sure of what to expect from the teams.

“I don’t really know a lot about these teams,” he said. “But I know that Alaska-Anchorage is going to be playing really hard on their home ice.”

Potulny said he was comfortable not knowing much about the competition, and the Gophers care more about their own play.

“Our main goal is to come out with two wins,” Potulny said. “It doesn’t really matter who we play, as long as we play our game.”

Any fatigue from jetlag will be compounded this weekend, as it is the first experience for Minnesota’s freshmen playing on back-to-back nights.

But coach Don Lucia said it might be good for Minnesota’s longest trip to be its first with such a young team.

“It’s always an adjustment,” Lucia said. “And it’s unfortunate that we got in an hour late. But (traveling) is something we’re going to have to get used to.”