Men’s hockey looking for first conference win

Lou Raguse

Thirty minutes into practice Wednesday, Minnesota men’s hockey coach Don Lucia raised his voice.

“Do your own job, don’t worry about someone else’s,” Lucia told his team.

Going into this weekend’s series against No. 6 Denver (4-0, 0-0 WCHA), the Gophers (1-3, 0-2) have many things to improve on, but the big job – getting their first two wins in the WCHA – is what players are worrying about most.

“I think 0-4 in the league would be almost insurmountable,” senior captain Grant Potulny said.

Assistant captain Troy Riddle echoed Potulny’s thoughts.

“We need a couple of wins this weekend, there is no doubt about it,” Riddle said. “We are shaken up a little bit, but we need to get our record up to 3-3.”

On Wednesday, Lucia evaluated reasons for his team’s slow start this season. Besides the difficult schedule and strong goaltenders Minnesota has faced, he said the Gophers need to start scoring more.

Minnesota’s opponents have been the first to score in each of the four games so far. In fact, the

Gophers’ opponents have beaten them to the scoreboard for a combined 10 goals.

Potulny said the Gophers need to start getting on the board first.

“Once we score a goal, we’re awesome. It’s getting that first goal that makes the difference,” Potulny said. “Once we get that first goal, we are a totally different team and then we really throw it on teams.”

The Pioneers have outscored opponents 19-7, plus they have one of the league’s top goaltenders in senior Adam Berkhoel. This weekend will be Denver’s first taste of WCHA competition.

But to Lucia, the series is less a must-win or must-sweep and more just an opportunity to get back on a winning track.

“There are no ‘must’ games in October,” Lucia said. “The ‘must’ games happen at the end of the year, but we don’t want to get ourselves too far out of (the league standings).”

One area of concentration this week in practice has been Minnesota’s specialty teams. On the power play, newly converted defenseman Andy Sertich, along with Ryan Potulny, Chris Harrington and Judd Stevens took time at the point, where things have been shaken up since assistant captain Keith Ballard’s knee injury last weekend.

This weekend, sophomore Thomas Vanek will stay closer to the net, where Lucia said he performed better.

Lucia also commented that the Gophers’ penalty kill has been one of the season’s bright spots thus far.

“We haven’t given up a goal in the penalty-kill from the end zone,” he said. “We’ve given some in blind rushes but not from end zones.”

Lucia said that this weekend he will use similar lines in the Duluth series and is starting to see combinations that he likes. The Gophers’ top line of Potulny, Gino Guyer and Barry Tallackson skated together in practice Wednesday.

Behind the net, Justin Johnson and Kellen Briggs will likely split time for the third straight weekend series.

“They just have to play games and continue to get experience,” Lucia said. “We need one more save a game from one of them, and whoever does that will start playing more regularly.”

Saturday’s pregame

Before Saturday’s game, three members of St. Paul’s 133rd Airlift Wing will be honored for their service this year in the Persian Gulf.

While overseas, some members of the 133rd displayed a University flag during the Gophers’ championship run. They will present the flag to the team during Saturday’s ceremony.