Minnesota will try to retain focus against Alaska-Anchorage

by Chris Lempesis

A struggling team with a 1-13-2 mark over its past 16 games ‘ a team that will be without its No. 1 goalie and team captain, who is also one of its leading scorers.

This is Alaska-Anchorage, the last place team in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association.

It’s also Minnesota’s men’s hockey team’s opponent this weekend.

With facts like these, it would be easy for the top-ranked, first-place Gophers ‘ 14-1-1 over their past 16 games, including the current eight-game unbeaten streak ‘ to go to Alaska expecting to be handed a pair of wins.

Facts like these also could lead to Minnesota overlooking its opponent and falling into a trap.

The Gophers (21-6-5, 16-5-3 WCHA) will try to avoid that trap this weekend as they face the Seawolves (6-23-3, 4-19-3 WCHA) for a two-game WCHA set Friday and Saturday. Game times are set for 10:07 both nights.

But if Minnesota’s players do any sort of overlooking, it won’t be because Minnesota’s coaches didn’t warn them.

“Our coaches have been talking about that a lot,” senior forward Andy Sertich said. “We can’t give up anything. We can’t lower our intensity or anything like that.”

This is because the Seawolves are having their senior weekend and, with basically no hope at making the NCAA Tournament, will be trying to hinder Minnesota’s chances at winning the MacNaughton Cup, awarded to the WCHA regular-season champions.

And although they won’t have their No. 1 goalie sophomore Nathan Lawson (sprained knee) and senior forward and team captain Ales Parez, third on the team in scoring (five goals, seven assists, 12 points), they also didn’t have to make the 3,200-mile trip.

The trip takes about six and a half hours by plane and creates a three-hour time change. These are obvious, and more difficult, differences from the usual Gophers hockey weekend.

“It takes a little bit more physically preparing,” junior defenseman Mike Vannelli said.

“It takes a toll on you getting up there and the flight and everything. But you just gotta be ready to go.”

A team trying to end a disappointing regular season on a high note; a team that will be playing extra hard to make up for the absence of two key players; and a team that benefits from not having to make a grueling trip.

Even if none of these things are enough to keep the Gophers ‘ who downed Alaska-Anchorage by scores of 9-0 and 4-3 at Mariucci Arena earlier this season ‘ sharp this weekend, this one final fact should: 1-2-0.

That’s Minnesota’s record at Anchorage over the past two seasons.

“I think that the one thing you know in our league is that I don’t care who you play,” coach Don Lucia said. “You go on the road, it’s a tough series. And our guys know that. Last year we lost to Anchorage up there 3-2. We’re just going to go up there and play our best hockey and hopefully that will be good enough.”