Return to Mariucci offers excellent chance for Gophers to snap funk

Minnesota will play at Mariucci Arena this weekend after struggling during five straight road games.

Minnesota forward Zach Budish controls the puck against Notre Dame on Tuesday, Jan. 8, 2013, at Mariucci Arena.

Daily File Photo

Minnesota forward Zach Budish controls the puck against Notre Dame on Tuesday, Jan. 8, 2013, at Mariucci Arena.

Drew Claussen

The Gophers are ranked No. 2 in the nation, but they sit fourth in the WCHA and are searching for consistency down the stretch.

Minnesota (20-6-4, 12-6-4 WCHA) returns to Mariucci Arena this weekend to take on Minnesota-Duluth after splitting its last three conference series. The Gophers lost only once in December and January.

Playing two of the last three series of the season at home could be the medicine the Gophers need. Their only road series remaining is a winnable one at Bemidji State to end the season.

Minnesota is 12-2-2 at Mariucci Arena this season.

“It’s been a while,” head coach Don Lucia said of playing at home. “When you look at 3-2 on the road against the teams we’ve played, that’s good.”

But Lucia said it’s disappointing that Minnesota was unable to sweep its past two series at home following wins Friday night.

The Gophers’ 8-0 nonconference record has them as virtual locks for the NCAA tournament.

“You go back a year ago at this time, we were leading the WCHA, and we were a bubble team for the NCAA tournament,” Lucia said. “I like the position we’re in today a whole lot better.”

But if Minnesota wants to repeat as WCHA champions in its last season in the conference, it likely can’t afford a loss the rest of the season.

“Who knows what we have to do — I don’t think we can worry about that,” Lucia said.

When the Gophers struggled last year, it was almost exclusively during Friday games. While that trend has mostly disappeared this year, the Gophers have dropped the second game in a series in consecutive weekends.

“We have to start being more consistent from Friday to Saturday night,” junior forward Zach Budish said. “It seems like right now we’re playing really solid game one and then the next night we drop off.”

Minnesota’s last loss was a tricky one — a 3-2 defeat against Wisconsin outdoors at Soldier Field. But it counted the same in the conference standings.

“It was two huge points in the standings,” Budish said. “You can’t blame the ice conditions because they’re obviously the same for both teams.”

Minnesota outplayed Wisconsin for the majority of Sunday’s game, with the exception of a four-minute stretch in the second period when the Badgers scored three goals.

“We learned that it doesn’t matter what the conditions are —you still have to come out and play 100 percent for 100 percent of the game,” sophomore forward Travis Boyd said. “If we play a whole 60 minutes, then we probably win that game.”

Injury likely to sideline Ambroz

After scoring two goals last weekend against Wisconsin, sophomore forward Seth Ambroz will likely be unavailable this weekend due to an unspecified injury.

Lucia said that Ambroz could play if it was an NCAA tournament game, but he wouldn’t go into more detail on the injury.

“We’re going to look at the big picture and probably hold him out this weekend, at least Friday for sure,” Lucia said.