Men’s hockey staying focused despite Badgers struggles

Adam Fink

There was a different attitude in the air following Minnesota’s men’s hockey victory over Colorado College last weekend.

After defeating the top-ranked Tigers 3-2 last Saturday, the Gophers (15-7-7, 10-5-5 WCHA) have started to re-establish some of the swagger the program carried through last season’s title run.

More importantly, Minnesota’s men’s hockey team has won three of its past four games to gain some momentum.

However, heading into this weekend’s series with lowly Wisconsin, the seventh-ranked Gophers aren’t talking brashly or taking a series with the Badgers lightly.

“This team isn’t good enough to be overconfident,” said coach Don Lucia. “Some teams can have a bad weekend and get away with it. We can’t. We have to play every weekend with everything we got.”

Lucia’s point isn’t lost on many of the Gophers.

Freshman Tyler Hirsch, who recorded a goal last weekend, said there is no room for error right now.

In addition, the 19-year-old said there is one quick way any player can avoid getting too sure of himself.

“Look at our record,” the Bloomington, Minn., native said. “Our confidence is up but we can’t let it get too high because we haven’t proven it should be any higher.”

Hirsch’s former coach – current Wisconsin coach Mike Eaves – knows a thing or two about confidence.

His Badgers team finally has some.

Wisconsin (10-17-3, 4-13-3) is coming off a sweep over Alaska-Anchorage. Defeating the conference doormat doesn’t call for a ticker-tape parade but when the Badgers are the ninth-place team, it’s a good place to start.

“I think we are a lot more confident going into Minnesota,” Badgers assistant coach Troy Ward said. “Wins are wins and we realize we have not had a lot of them.”

The two teams are in different positions than the last time they met, Dec. 6-7 with Minnesota sweeping Wisconsin in Madison.

At the time, Minnesota was looking for its most consistent weekend. Wisconsin was struggling to make the transition to Eaves, in his first year at the helm of the program.

Now, Minnesota is looking to continue its recent success and solidify home ice in the WCHA playoffs.

Wisconsin would just like to string a few solid games together.

Hirsch, who will talk to Eaves for the first time this weekend since joining Minnesota, said the Gophers are heading in the right direction.

“After Saturday, anything less is unacceptable,” Hirsch said. “The bar has been raised.”

Who’s in goal?

The Gophers’ number-one goaltender is in doubt again.

Travis Weber has made 22 starts this season, including 16 straight from mid-November through mid-January.

But Weber and Justin Johnson have alternated starts the past two series. Weber has a 1-1 record, while Johnson is 2-0 since Jan. 31.

Lucia hasn’t decided which of the sophomores will start Friday’s game this weekend, or even if they will continue to alternate.

But a comment Lucia made earlier this week indicates Weber is still the favorite.

“I haven’t decided on a starter for Friday,” Lucia said Wednesday. “I am not sure whether Travis will play Friday or both games.”

Weber is recovering, along with four teammates, from food poisoning.

Game time for the series opener is 7:05.

Times set for regional

Times have been set for the NCAA West Regional at Mariucci Arena.

The first semifinal on Friday, March 28, will begin at 4:00. The other semifinal will begin at 7:30 that night.

The regional final will be Saturday, March 29 at 4 p.m.

Adam Fink covers men’s hockey and welcomes comments at [email protected]