Gophers hope western trip doesn’t send them south in standings

David La

Minnesota travels to Denver this weekend, where coach George Gwozdecky has led the Pioneers to a streaky 4-7-1 record this season.
Three losses, one win. Two losses, one win. Two losses, one win. Two wins, one tie — more peaks and valleys than the nearby Rocky Mountains.
“It’s important that we start producing,” Gwozdecky said. “We have been producing as of late, which indicates to me that we’re developing into a team that’s pretty tough to play against.”
The Gophers have struggled with Denver over the last ten games. Two wins, a tie, two losses — you get the idea.
Coming off its first consecutive losses of the year, Minnesota looks to stay on top of the WCHA with wins this weekend.
Gophers coach Don Lucia is leery of the Pioneers, a team he believes is capable of blooming at any time.
“They’ve got a lot of young guys and they’ve played a tough schedule so far,” Lucia said. “They haven’t hit their groove yet.”
Historically, when a Gwozdecky-led team hits their groove, the results are magnificent.
Gwozdecky took his first job at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls, leading the Falcons to a Division II national championship in 1983.
Gwozdecky joined the Michigan State staff as an assistant two years later, helping the Spartans win the NCAA national championship in 1986.
Since his arrival in Denver, Gwozdecky brought the Pioneers to three NCAA tournaments and won the 1994-1995 WCHA coach of the year award.
But the numbers spanning Gwozdecky’s tenure with the Pioneers reads like a topographical map, showing the slopes which follow the peaks.
Three winning seasons ended with an 11-25-2 record in 1997-1998. Denver rebounded for the greatest turnaround of any team in college hockey, going 26-13-2 the next year.
It was the first time in the history of the WCHA where a 25-game loser won 25 or more games a year later.
However, the Pioneers fell to 16-23-2 last season, good for 9th in the conference.
“You’d like to be a little more consistent from year-to-year,” Gwozdecky said. “The one thing is the imbalance we had in class sizes. Every year it was either feast or famine. The team that won the 1999 tournament title two years ago graduated 10 guys, nine of which played on a regular basis.”
Gwozdecky believes his team — on a three-game unbeaten streak — is picking up steam heading into the weekend.
He is specifically enthused about his freshmen, a group where five players have played in at least 10 of 12 games.
An imbalance in classes hurt Denver’s consistency in the past, and Gwozdecky is trying to change the trend.
“One day they’re good and the next day they’re finding out what doesn’t work and then have to go to something else,” Gwozdecky said. “The freshmen see this as a sprint, but this is a marathon.”
It’s a marathon Gwozdecky is trying to run on a more level course.

David La Vaque covers men’s hockey and welcomes comments at [email protected]