Top of WCHA is home for Gophers

Michael Rand

Something was familiar to Gophers hockey players Mike Anderson, Mike Crowley and Nick Checco Saturday morning as they sat around the breakfast table.
Following Minnesota’s 5-2 win over Michigan Tech on Friday night, the team found itself in first place in the WCHA standings. Even after years of playing catch-up to Colorado College, the three Bloomington Jefferson graduates thought of the top spot as home.
“We were just sitting around, and I said, ‘This feels normal,'” Anderson said. “We grew up always being in first place. It’s something we should cling to.”
Perhaps “cling” is the most appropriate word to describe Minnesota’s hold on first place right now. Four other teams — North Dakota, Colorado College, St. Cloud State and Wisconsin — are within three points of the Gophers’ lead.
With 10 games remaining on the schedule, the next two of which are at North Dakota, the race is far from over. Gophers players know that being in first place now is about as commanding as leading a marathon at the halfway point.
Co-captain Casey Hankinson made that point clear. When asked how it felt to be in first place, the junior paused for a few seconds and quipped, “I’ll tell you at the end of the year.”
Goals boost Clymer
Prior to the Michigan Tech series, Gophers freshman defenseman Ben Clymer was a little unhappy with his recent play.
His statistics (two goals, eight assists) weren’t bad, but they paled in comparison to his high school numbers. As a result, he started trying a little too hard.
“I don’t think I was struggling, but I was definitely squeezing my stick a little,” Clymer said.
He definitely doesn’t have that problem any more.
Clymer recorded four goals and an assist against the Huskies, including his first college hat trick Saturday night. He earned WCHA Rookie of the Week honors for his weekend, but more importantly, he regained some of his lost confidence.
“I got a couple of lucky bounces and some nice passes from Mike (Crowley),” Clymer said. “It’s definitely good for my confidence.”
Did you check the … ?
As if a post-game departure via bus on Saturday night isn’t bad enough, the Gophers had mechanical difficulties on their way back from Houghton, Mich.
The team’s driver stopped the bus along the side of the highway about an hour into the return trip. Most players figured it was just a routine break until the driver and a couple of other people started inspecting the vehicle and scratching their heads.
“Before we knew it, we had been there for an hour and 45 minutes,” Anderson said.
The driver could not get the bus in gear. So, after nearly two hours of hassle, someone tried shutting the ignition off and turning it back on.
It worked like a charm.
Still, the team didn’t get back into Minneapolis until 7:15 a.m. on Sunday.
Crowley in scoring hunt
In addition to earning WCHA Offensive Player of the Week honors for his eight-assist weekend at Michigan Tech, Crowley vaulted from a tie for 22nd place in the league scoring race to a tie for third.
The junior, who had a career-high five assists on Saturday, has 27 points, which is four behind league-leader Brian Swanson of Colorado College.
Slap Shots
ù Gophers goalie Steve DeBus has similar statistics this year in comparison to last year. He has the same record (15-7), two more saves (541-539) and has allowed four more goals (67-63).
ù Freshman Dave Spehar extended his point streak to 11 games over the weekend.
ù The Gophers still lead the WCHA in penalty killing and power play efficiency.