Gophers look for revenge against St. Cloud

David La

St. Cloud coach Craig Dahl didn’t spend a great deal of time reveling in his team’s sweep of Colorado College last weekend.
Nevermind that his Huskies went into Colorado Springs and put the first two blemishes on the Tigers record. Dahl is more concerned with his forwards not clicking and his special teams’ performance.
“It was our seventh and eighth games of the year,” Dahl said. “So you could go down the list.”
Minnesota coach Don Lucia is also transfixed with St. Cloud’s lists, the ones showing four players who scored 42 points or more last season and goaltender Scott Meyer, whose save percentage led the WCHA.
And they’re all back. No other team in the conference can boast a contingent of forwards as potent as the Huskies, or a stopper as stingy as Meyer.
“I think they have the best forwards in the WCHA,” Lucia said. “I think they have the best goalie in the WCHA. A lot of people feel St. Cloud has the most talent in the league. In many ways, they’re the team to beat this year.”
At 6-1-1, the Huskies are off to the best start in school history. They’re doing it with defense, allowing a league-low 1.75 goals per game.
“It’s surprising in a way,” Dahl said. “I played four freshmen, one sophomore and one junior defenseman this past weekend. Normally that doesn’t bode well. But you cross your fingers. You know they’re going to make some mistakes early. You hope that despite those mistakes you can win games early in the year, because they’re going to be better as the year goes on.”
The Huskies blueline presses on this season without the services of all-everything defenseman Mike Pudlick. Pudlick, who left early to join the NHL’s Los Angeles Kings, killed the Gophers last season — scoring three goals and adding two assists in his last three games against Minnesota.
But with Meyer — who posted a school-record seven shutouts last season — between the pipes, Dahl can let his defense work out the kinks.
“But we’re getting great goaltending from Scott Meyer, that’s a large part of (our success),” Dahl said.
Meyer and the youthful defense are up against a potent Gophers attack. Minnesota leads the WCHA with 5.20 goals per game and features four of the league’s top-10 scorers.
In the past two weeks, Minnesota dropped nine goals on solid Graham Melanson of Wisconsin and five each on stellar Andy Kollar and Karl Goehring of North Dakota.
Already adept at scoring goals, the third-ranked Gophers are primed to vindicate themselves after going 0-4-1 against St. Cloud a year ago — including a season-ending defeat in the WCHA tournament.
“We have to play better against rivals like them and Wisconsin,” sophomore Jeff Taffe said. “Their defensive core is young, and we have to get to them often.”
Minnesota continues its march through a stifling November schedule, a docket featuring five 2000 NCAA tournament teams. The Gophers went 3-15-2 against tournament teams a year ago but are 2-1-1 this season.
“If we want to be toward the top in the conference at the end of the year, we’ve got to get some points this weekend,” Lucia said.
To do so, Minnesota will need to overcome another mounting list — injuries.
Lucia reported Erik Wendell (knee) is out of the lineup until after Christmas. Stuart Senden (knee) is on target to be back next week. Ben Tharp (shoulder) hasn’t skated all week and is doubtful to play this weekend. Matt DeMarchi (knee) is questionable, but Nick Anthony (concussion) will play this weekend.

David La Vaque covers men’s hockey and welcomes comments at [email protected]