Midseason offensive lull concerns U hockey squad

by Michael Rand

The Gophers hockey team is now 30 games into its season and still waiting for the consistent offensive production that players insist is just around the corner.
Every weekend seems to produce one or two standouts, but rarely have all four lines clicked in the same series for Minnesota this season.
The Gophers sweep of Northern Michigan this weekend was no exception. The team scored six goals; Ryan Kraft had three goals and two assists while Mike Crowley had a goal and three assists.
Those statistics don’t suggest that other Minnesota players weren’t playing hard or hustling, but they do illuminate a disturbing fact about the Gophers season: The offense still hasn’t found its groove.
“It’s something that’s hard to explain,” Kraft said. “We’re just trying to take it one game at a time right now.”
For his part, Kraft is trying to lead by example. Having a hand in five of his team’s six goals this weekend attests to that. He leads the team with 17 goals.
His team-leading total is five more than anyone else on the team. Although 11 other players have between five and 12 goals, their contributions have often come in bunches rather than spread throughout the course of the season.
One of the main differences in this year’s team compared to last year’s, Kraft said, is a lack of “killer instinct,” which is a big factor in the stagnant offense.
When the Wildcats visited Mariucci Arena last season, the Gophers handed them 10-0 and 7-0 shutouts. Three Minnesota goals in the first eight minutes Friday night suggested a repeat performance.
That encore never happened, however, as the Gophers sputtered and clung to a 4-3 victory. Players just didn’t feed off of each other on offense like they did last season, Kraft said.
Last year’s Gophers had 16 wins by four or more goals while this year’s team has only four wins by that margin.
“We just haven’t put teams away,” Kraft said.
Northern Michigan coach Rick Comley’s comments after Saturday’s game offer a different theory.
“They’re maybe not as good as they think they are, but they’re better than we are,” Comley said.
Perhaps the Gophers, minus Brian Bonin and Dan Trebil, simply can’t send a high octane offense onto the ice every night because they don’t have the firepower.
Gophers senior Dan Hendrickson would like to think that’s not true.
“I don’t think we’re way off,” he said. “We just have to get everybody clicking at once.”
Minnesota’s 10 games with five or more goals this season gives legitimacy to Hendrickson’s claim.
But equally telling is how bad the offense can be when everyone isn’t clicking. Seven times this season, the Gophers have scored two or fewer goals. Saturday’s game against Northern Michigan was Minnesota’s first win in such a game.
Kraft said hard work will make two-goal outputs a thing of the past.
“I don’t want to be sitting on the couch someday thinking, Gee, I wish I would have worked harder,'” Kraft said. “The day we get 20 guys on the ice playing an A’ game, we’re going to be very dangerous.”
Unfortunately, the Gophers’ patience is running out — and so is their season.