Gophers host in-state rival Minnesota-Duluth

Minnesota has a chance to beat the team that ended its 2008-09 season.

Max Sanders

Thoughts of the 2008-09 seasonâÄôs end will undoubtedly make this weekend an emotional series when the Gophers host their biggest in-state rival. The Minnesota menâÄôs hockey team will face No. 20 Minnesota-Duluth (7-4-1 overall, 4-3-1 Western Collegiate Hockey Association) for the first time since last seasonâÄôs WCHA Final Five play-in game, when the Bulldogs ended the Gophers season with a 2-1 win en route to winning the WCHA Championship. To Minnesota (4-5-1, 3-4-1) head coach Don Lucia , that loss is a thing of the past and wonâÄôt affect his team when the two squads meet again this Friday. âÄúWhat happened last year really has zero bearing on this year,âÄù Lucia said. âÄúI donâÄôt think thereâÄôs any revenge factor or anything like that when you go from year to year.âÄù Junior forward Mike Hoeffel also downplayed any potential revenge factor and instead cited the Bulldogs offensive prowess as a key factor in this weekendâÄôs matchup. âÄúThey have a solid team every year, and they’ve recently scored a lot of goals on teams they’ve played,âÄù he said. âÄúThey get a lot of shots, so it’ll definitely be a good competition for us this weekend.âÄù Minnesota-Duluth is coming off a two-game series with Michigan Tech which saw the Bulldogs win SaturdayâÄôs game 8-1, with four goals and an assist coming from Justin Fontaine . The junior earned WCHAâÄôs offensive player of the week honors for his five-point performance Saturday, and Lucia knows Fontaine âÄî the nationâÄôs leading scorer with 11 goals âÄî is just one of many offensive weapons the Bulldogs have that the Gophers will try to contain this weekend. âÄúTheyâÄôve got some real high-end forwards,âÄù Lucia said. âÄúI think they’re a good skating team and they’ve got some good high-end skill.âÄù Undoubtedly the key to this weekendâÄôs series will be the play during special teams. Minnesota-Duluth has already scored 22 power-play goals this season to top the nation. Limiting the BulldogâÄôs chances on power play is what Lucia sees as the most important element for this weekendâÄôs series. âÄúYou donâÄôt want to give them six, eight cracks at it a night or theyâÄôre going to score,âÄù Lucia said. âÄúIf we can keep to three or four opportunities a night, I think thatâÄôs going to go a long way in helping us.âÄù In addition to stopping the power play, Lucia said the Gophers will look to take advantage of when they have the man-advantage. âÄúA series like this, you don’t want to be on the negative end of the specialty battles night in and night out,âÄù Lucia said. âÄúI think that for us to win this weekend, we have to be even or plus on the specialties. We can’t allow them to get two or three a night, otherwise it’s too big of a mountain for us to climb.âÄù A key to last SundayâÄôs loss and something Lucia hopes to avoid this weekend is turnovers. The Sunday debacle against Bemidji State, in which the Gophers gave up six goals, showcased how crucial it is to avoid turnovers as Lucia attributed at least three of the BeaversâÄô goals as a direct result of Minnesota turnovers. âÄúWe have to eliminate the turnovers; we have to stay disciplined,âÄù Lucia said. âÄúTo me, weâÄôre not a good enough team to overcome some of the mental mistakes like that, lack of discipline and turning pucks over.âÄù On the injury front, senior Ryan FlynnâÄôs 65 consecutive games played streak came to an end Sunday when he missed the game due to a leg injury suffered in SaturdayâÄôs game. FlynnâÄôs return this weekend is questionable, and Lucia said if Flynn does return, he is unlikely to play both games. Freshman Nick Leddy is continuing his recovery from a broken jaw and is two weeks away from returning. While quick to say this is just another weekend against a conference opponent, Hoeffel admitted there will be some extra chatter on the ice between the familiar foes. âÄúIt’s a Minnesota team, and everybody’s grown up playing against them,âÄù Hoeffel said. âÄúThere’s always chatter and chirping going on, so IâÄôm sure that’ll be expected this weekend as well.âÄù The two-game series begins Friday, with the puck dropping at 7:07 p.m.