Gophers hockey coach downplays No. 1 ranking

Both national polls have the Gophers as the top team in the country, but players realize it's early.

MINNEAPOLIS -- Gophers men's hockey coach Don Lucia put things into perspective when asked about his team's No. 1 ranking Wednesday. He noted that Minnesota is already the third team in the last three weeks to garner that top spot in the national rankings -- and if the Gophers don't play well this weekend against Boston College, there could be a new No. 1 next week.

Lucia wasn't necessarily forecasting a loss for Minnesota this weekend as it hosts the Eagles for two games. Rather, the long-time Gophers coach was downplaying the significance of being ranked No. 1 in the nation at such an early juncture in the season.

"We're No. 1 because we're 4-0 and we're Minnesota. Lake State's 4-0 and they're Lake State so they don't get it," Lucia said. "That's part of it. It's so irrelevant this early in the season. We've played some teams that we're supposed to beat at this point."

Minnesota received 31 of 50 first-place votes in the poll and 25 of 34 first-place votes in the USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine poll. Last week's No. 1 in both polls, Miami (Ohio), dropped a game to North Dakota last weekend to lose its brief grip on the top ranking. With a pair of wins over Bemidji State, the Gophers assumed the throne atop both polls.

Having the No. 1 ranking is nice, but Minnesota's players know that the early accolade will mean very little in the long run.

"It's nice to see. It shows that we've had good success right away in the season," said sophomore goalie Adam Wilcox. "But it's something to look at, nothing to really take too much (from) right now."

Minnesota is one of three Big Ten teams in the top 11 spots in the rankings, with Michigan coming in at No. 4 and Wisconsin falling from No. 2 to No. 11 after a pair of one-sided losses over the weekend. One of those losses was to the same Boston College team that comes to Mariucci Arena this weekend with the No. 5 ranking by its name.

As if the Gophers didn't already have a bit of a target on their backs, holding that No. 1 ranking will ensure that. Now Minnesota can expect to see every other team bring their best game when they face off against the Gophers.

"It's obviously an honor to be ranked No. 1 right now," said sophomore defenseman Brady Skjei. "Every game is the other team's biggest game of the year against us."

Top line clicking early: Before the season started, junior forwards Kyle Rau and Sam Warning had a request for Lucia: they wanted to play on the same line together.

Lucia granted the request and added 6-foot-2, 207-pound freshman Hudson Fasching with the juniors on Minnesota's top line. That trio has paid dividends for Lucia and the Gophers through the first four games, as those three players are all among the top four point scorers for Minnesota.

Warning leads all Gophers with nine points (five goals, four assists), which is tied for the most in all of college hockey. Fasching, meanwhile, has two goals and four assists in his first four college games, while Ray has added five points as the center for the top line.

That's the kind of production Minnesota hoped to see from its big guns as they've all complimented each other's games.

"Kyle and Sam wanted to play together to begin the year, so we thought we'd give them the opportunity," Lucia said. "Then looking at our personnel, it kind of became, 'Well, who would be a good fit on the third guy on that line?' We wanted somebody that was a little bit bigger and stronger to help them. But also what Hudson's shown is that he can not only play at pace with them but he can make plays, and he's done that."

Fasching spent two seasons with the U.S. National Development Team Program in Ann Arbor, Mich., after playing high school hockey in Apple Valley, Minn. The fourth-round draft pick of the Los Angeles Kings has made a strong first impression with the Gophers and has earned the respect of his upperclassmen linemates.

"He's a hungry freshman and wants to play a lot, and he's been producing," Warning said. "It's really fun to play with somebody like that. He's only played in four games now as a freshman and he's been playing unbelievable."

High-powered Eagles: As a Wisconsin native playing college hockey in Minnesota, Gophers forward Nate Condon isn't too fond of the Badgers. So he couldn't help but take some joy in the fact that Wisconsin was crushed 9-2 last Friday night by Boston College.

"I always pay attention to those games," Condon said. "Any team that can put up nine goals is obviously very talented offensively."

Now it's up to Minnesota to slow down the Eagles, who have scored 17 goals in their first three games. Of course, nine of those came against Wisconsin, while BC also scored seven goals in a 7-2 win over Rensselaer. Eagles junior Johnny Gaudreau is a big reason for Boston College's early offensive prowess as he leads the nation with 2.33 points per game through two weeks.

"The one thing, they scored nine five-on-five goals, which is not easy to do," Lucia said. "Our fans are in for a treat because Johnny Gaudreau didn't play here last year. He was at the World Juniors. He's a special player. I don't think there's a better player in college hockey."

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