Alaska-Anchorage next for confident Minnesota

Ben Goessling

Judging from the few signs Minnesota’s men’s hockey team has offered on the subject this week, one would assume the Gophers have moved on completely from their monthlong slump.

After a split at Wisconsin last weekend, coach Don Lucia said he will stick with the same lines for Minnesota’s matchup against Alaska-Anchorage today and Saturday at Mariucci Arena – a stark contrast from the desperate try-anything philosophy Minnesota used at Wisconsin.

Lucia also hinted Minnesota will use goaltender Kellen Briggs for both games – the first time he’s talked in those terms about his starter since early January.

And after several weeks of downtrodden faces, the Gophers are talking about closing the season with a six-game run to the WCHA playoffs.

But beneath that veneer of optimism, Minnesota knows it is one lost weekend away from a world of trouble again.

“We’ve had a good couple days of practice, but we need that momentum to continue,” Lucia said. “We’ve got to get back to trying to win a couple games.”

The Gophers (20-11-0, 13-9-0 WCHA) have only seen the Seawolves once this year – in the final of the Frontier Classic on Oct. 16 in Anchorage, Alaska, .

Despite being outshot 38-19, Alaska-Anchorage stunned Minnesota 3-2 in that game, with Seawolves goalie Nathan Lawson stopping 36 shots.

And though Lucia has never lost to the Seawolves at Mariucci Arena, there wouldn’t be a worse time for the Gophers to break that streak than right now.

“The only thing that matters is that they’ve beat us before,” forward Tyler Hirsch said. “They can beat us, and our only focus is to not let it happen again.”

Unlike the last three opponents to visit Mariucci Arena, the Seawolves (8-15-3, 6-14-2) aren’t exactly coming in on a tear, sitting 2-6-2 in their last 10 games.

In fact, the entire 2004-05 season has been one big headache for the Seawolves and coach John Hill. Hill has had to shuttle his team around to two different practice facilities all season and kicked sophomore forward Brett Arcand-Kootenay off the team in January.

Lucia, who coached in Anchorage from 1985-87, certainly knows the struggles of coaching in the conference’s last outpost and has kept in touch with Hill – a former Gophers assistant – all season.

“It’s been one thing after another,” Lucia said. “They face more adversity than anybody, but sometimes that builds character.”

And if Lucia’s current team has learned anything the last month, it’s probably that.

Now Minnesota just hopes this weekend won’t bring a relapse of its old problems, team members said.

“There are going to be ups and downs, but we wanted to stay on an even set of emotions the whole way through,” defenseman Nate Hagemo said. “Everybody is looking at these last six games, trying to win them all and get a little separation in the standings.”