MINNEAPOLIS — If the sight of a Tuesday game on the Minnesota men’s hockey team’s schedule looks odd, it should. But there was a reason the Gophers moved their one-game series against Notre Dame from Saturday to next Tuesday.
At the time, both schools each had three players who had a chance to make rosters for the World Juniors tournament in Russia. The event is currently taking place and runs through the gold medal game on Saturday.
While only two of the six players — one from each team — ended up playing in the World Juniors, Minnesota wanted to avoid any potential scheduling conflicts. So the game was moved to Tuesday to allow for travel from Ufa, Russia, back to the United States.
Coincidentally, Notre Dame’s lone representative in the World Juniors just so happens to be Gophers coach Don Lucia’s son, Mario. The freshman forward was chosen for the 24-man United States roster and has one assist in six games. He’ll try to help Team USA beat Sweden in the gold medal game this Saturday at 7 a.m.
Whether Mario will be on the ice to face his dad’s team a few days later, however, remains to be seen.
“Whether they end up playing him or not, that’s their decision on what they do,” Lucia said of Mario, who has five goals and five assists in nine games for the Fighting Irish after missing time with a broken leg. “Obviously, it’s one big reason why we set this up because he was going to be playing there. But at the same time, we knew we were setting it up to play a good opponent, too.
Minnesota is represented in the tournament by freshman defenseman Mike Reilly. In six games, Reilly has a goal and two assists. He’s also roommates with Lucia while in Russia.
Don Lucia said Thursday that he’s still not sure if Reilly will play Tuesday against third-ranked Notre Dame. Reilly is scheduled to arrive in Minnesota on Sunday evening but will have to adjust to the 12-hour time difference.
“It’s something we’re wrestling with right now whether to play him or not,” Lucia said. “Originally when we set this up, we thought we might lose three guys and that was a concern. Now that it’s only one, you don’t feel the same necessity. We want to do what’s best for the team but also what’s best for him.”
Because of the big difference in time zones, many of the World Juniors games are aired early in the morning in the United States, sometimes as early as 3 a.m. Lucia admits he hasn’t woken up that early to watch his son play, but does tape the games to watch them later.
Lucia has also used videophone technology to connect with his son while Mario is playing over in Russia.
“Actually it works out pretty good with the time change. When we get up, he’s going to bed, and when we’re going to bed, he’s getting up. We’ve had a chance to talk to him just about every day,” Lucia said. “It’s been a great experience for him. He’s in a whole new role that he probably hasn’t been in, but that’s all part of the growth and learning experience.”
Haula out a few weeks with injury: Minnesota will be without its top point scorer, center Erik Haula, for at least a few weeks, Lucia said Thursday. Haula left Sunday’s game against Boston College with what was only referred to as an “upper body injury.”
Through 19 games, Haula has nine goals and 17 assists for a team-high 26 points. He had two assists Sunday against Boston College before leaving with an injury.
Now, the Gophers must face No. 3 Notre Dame without their leading scorer.
“We’re going to have to make some adjustments. We’re still trying to figure out what we want to do. Obviously it impacts us in every phase,” Lucia said on the loss of Haula. “We liked (Nate) Condon with (Nick) Bjugstad last weekend, but he can play center, too. Do we put him in Haula’s spot? … We’ll do some experimenting this week. Obviously it impacts the power play as well. …
“The good thing is it’s not something that’s going to be two months or three months. It’s something that’s going to be a few weeks.”
Condon, a junior forward, has five goals and 10 assists for Minnesota this season. He also has some experience playing center.
“I’ve got to play a lot more defense. That’s not too hard for me since I played (center) against (Colorado College) and most of my freshman year I played it as well,” Condon said. “A lot of it is that defensive aspect, but also it’s a lot of puck movement. You’ve got to see a lot more of the ice going up the middle and keep you head up in the neutral zone.”
No. 1 after beating No. 1: Minnesota dismantled top-ranked Boston College by an 8-1 final on Sunday. As a result, the Gophers are now ranked No. 1 in the latest USCHO.com poll.
Minnesota was the top-ranked team earlier in the year but saw itself slip in the polls after a slow start. Now back on top, though, the Gophers refuse to place too much stock in the rankings.
“It’s still really early. It’s Jan. 3. We’ve got a long ways to go,” said junior forward Zach Budish. “We’ve got a good quality opponent in Notre Dame coming in, and then Alaska. We’ve got a good stretch of games coming up with quality teams every weekend.”