Pains cause shakeups, strong words

Assistant captain Chris Harrington nearly got benched for Saturday’s game.

Ben Goessling

For as much as Minnesota men’s hockey coach Don Lucia has lamented not having six healthy defensemen for the last month, he evidently is also willing to get by without them.

Lucia was prepared to sit assistant captain Chris Harrington after Friday’s 6-3 loss to Michigan Tech and didn’t have the junior in Saturday’s lineup during Minnesota’s morning skate.

Minnesota played without defensemen Nate Hagemo and Alex Goligoski against Minnesota State-Mankato on Jan. 14-15 because of shoulder injuries and had forward Andy Sertich back on defense.

Goligoski played Friday night, scoring Minnesota’s third goal.

After Harrington negated a two-on-one with a cross-checking penalty in the first period and turned the puck over behind the Gophers’ net on the game’s second goal, Lucia originally planned to move Sertich back to defense in Harrington’s place Saturday.

Sertich ended up on the blue line, but Harrington worked his way back into the lineup after Goligoski was forced to sit again, this time with a sprained ankle.

Nonetheless, Lucia’s message got through Saturday.

“I thought Chris Harrington responded well,” he said. “He was physical and smart. That’s the level he has to play at.”

Lucia also started backup goaltender Justin Johnson for the second Saturday in a row, resting Kellen Briggs after he gave up five goals Friday.

Johnson was the beneficiary of an improved effort from the Gophers’ mercurial defense, seeing only one shot from the slot in the third period and just two in the first.

“I told Kellen if we’d had that effort on Friday night, we would have won the game,” Johnson said.

Minnesota couldn’t solve Michigan Tech goalie Cam Ellsworth but came through with a strong effort following Saturday morning’s lineup shakeups and several publicly aired frustrations Friday.

After the series-opening loss, Harrington said the Gophers aren’t “looking for heroes” and followed by saying Minnesota isn’t doing enough little things right as a team to win.

“You’ve got guys out there in the neutral zone, waving their stick in the air for a breakaway when there’s a five-on-four in our zone. That’s not going to work,” he said. “I don’t think anybody had a problem when we won 2-1 at the beginning of the season; now we’ve got a problem if we don’t score six goals.”

And when asked why center Ryan Potulny’s production has tailed off after he started the year on an 11-game point streak, Lucia responded with strong words, too.

“For every guy, it’s amazing, when you work hard, you usually score. Scoring usually starts when you’re playing well defensively and playing well all over the rink,” Lucia said. “He was a little puck-lucky early in the season, and he’s not going to maintain that pace. But he’s obviously an important component, and we need him to score.”

Minnesota resumes practice today and figures to revisit many of the issues from Friday’s game in preparation for a crucial series with Minnesota-Duluth this weekend.

But for as bad as the weekend was, forward Danny Irmen said Minnesota can’t afford to panic.

“You can’t change your shooting style because a goalie plays well,” he said. “Everyone’s disappointed, but we’ve just got to change it fast.”