Team hoping to find four points north on Interstate 35

The Gophers split a road series at St. Cloud State last weekend.

by Chris Lempesis

A team heading into the season with an abnormally large freshman class trying to make up for the loss of four of its top six scorers from the previous year.”

That’s a quick way to sum up Minnesota’s men’s hockey team’s weekend opponent, Duluth.

But that same summary could’ve been used to describe the Gophers heading into the 2004-2005 season. The only difference is that Minnesota had 10 freshmen that year and Duluth has 11 newcomers this year.

So when the teams meet for a two-game Western Collegiate Hockey Association set today and Saturday in Duluth – both game times are set for 7:07 p.m. – the Gophers, more than most teams, will be able to understand how difficult a situation the Bulldogs are in.

“It’s tough because you don’t really know each other’s tendencies (early on),” senior forward Andy Sertich said. “Line combinations getting shuffled around a lot, people are playing with different people and, you know, you’re just not too comfortable with the team right away.”

That low level of comfort has shown early on for the Bulldogs. They lost their first four games of the season.

That’s a far cry from how Minnesota opened the 2004-2005 season, shooting out to a 4-2-0 start, actually better than the 3-2-1 start to this season.

“It just kind of matters on your schedule,” Sertich said of how some young teams come out hot and others don’t. “Who’s hurt, who’s not, how good team chemistry is. But (Duluth is) going to keep getting better and better throughout the year.”

The Bulldogs are indeed starting to show that better results could lie ahead as they were able to earn a win and a tie at Michigan Tech last weekend.

“You gotta be patient,” Duluth coach Scott Sandelin said Thursday. “I know there’s going to mistakes and those ups and downs, but I’ve seen improvements. Again, it’s not where we’re going to be, but we’re getting there.”

And maybe having a large freshman class isn’t all bad, according to a member of last year’s incoming class, forward Mike Howe.

Howe said that having a lot of new guys all at once gives a newfound spark and also forces everyone on the team to work just a little bit harder.

The Gophers, who have struggled with inconsistency through the early part of this season, are well aware that

the young pups up north certainly will be working their hardest to make the first big mark of their respective careers at Duluth.

“I’m sure they’re going to have a lot of animosity going into the game,” Howe said.

Irmen back soon?

Star junior forward Danny Irmen, out with a broken finger since the end of the Gophers’ 4-3 overtime loss to Alaska-Fairbanks in the first game of the regular season, may be back by the end of the month.

On Tuesday, Irmen said he will see doctors next week to have his finger looked at. He also said he hopes to be back for the Thanksgiving weekend College Hockey Showcase games against Michigan and Michigan State.

The original prognosis was for Irmen to miss four to six weeks. The Michigan and Michigan State games would fall approximately six weeks after the injury occurred.