MINNEAPOLIS — Beginning the season with a 2-0 record after convincing wins over Michigan State, the University of Minnesota men’s hockey team was the top-ranked program in college hockey.
That didn’t last long, however, as the Gophers were tripped up last Friday on the road against Michigan Tech in a 5-3 loss and narrowly escaped the weekend with a split after winning Saturday’s game 3-2.
The Huskies have historically been near the bottom of the pack in the WCHA, but this year’s Michigan Tech team appears much improved. The Gophers found that out the hard way.
“One thing that I think we didn’t do that coaches told us to do was not take them lightly,” sophomore defenseman Ben Marshall said Wednesday. “… We definitely took Tech lightly, and they took it to us real hard.”
The Gophers and Huskies played just one series last year, with each team winning a game at Mariucci Arena. Michigan Tech’s win in that series came in overtime.
Prior to last weekend’s series, the Huskies were 1-1 after splitting a home-and-home series against Lake Superior State. A year ago, Michigan Tech finished 16-19-4 overall and 11-13-4 in the WCHA. One year before that, the Huskies were just 4-30-4.
The Michigan Tech program has come a long way since its four-win season 2010-11, and the Gophers found that out first-hand.
“I don’t think it was an upset,” said sophomore forward Seth Ambroz, who had two goals in Saturday’s 3-2 win. “Michigan Tech’s got a really good team. They’re really well coached. They’ll definitely be one of the top teams in the WCHA this year, for sure. We just didn’t come out ready to play. We didn’t have the energy and fire.”
Despite outshooting the Huskies both nights, Minnesota came away with the split. Now, Minnesota will try to bounce back from last weekend with a bit of an odd schedule this weekend at home. The Gophers will host the men’s U.S. Under-18 team Friday before hosting Canisius for one game Sunday.
Minnesota is hoping last year’s trend of not playing well on Friday nights doesn’t continue. It happened in Houghton, Mich., last Friday, however.
Said Marshall: “What happened against Tech, we’ve got to correct our mistakes on Friday nights and just come out with the power that we do on Saturdays.”
Or Sundays, for that matter.
Lucia reflects on 600 wins: After the Gophers did rebound from Friday’s loss, they earned what was a milestone win for head coach Don Lucia. The victory was Lucia’s 600th of his career, as he became the 10th coach in NCAA history to achieve that milestone.
Lucia’s career record is now 600-329-83 in 26 seasons as a Division I coach, including a mark of 321-174-54 in 13 seasons (plus four games) with the Gophers. He also coached six seasons each at Alaska-Fairbanks and Colorado College before taking the job at Minnesota in 1999.
“I didn’t think I’d be doing it that long,” Lucia said of 600 wins. “I think more than anything else, when talking 600, you go down memory lane a little bit and you think of how you did get started and how fun it was.
“I joked around that not many coaches had to run the first half of practice, take off their skates, drive the Zamboni, get your skates back on and run the second half of practice. But you know what? Those are the kind of things that make it all worthwhile.”
Gophers will stick with goalie rotation: Minnesota is still trying to figure out which of its two goalies it will lean on in net this year, junior Mike Shibrowski or freshman Adam Wilcox. During the first two series, the Gophers have played Shibrowski on Friday and Wilcox on Saturday. Lucia said that’s the plan again this weekend.
But Wilcox had the stronger performance this past weekend in Houghton, earning the win Saturday by stopping 16 Huskies shots. Wilcox also replaced Shibrowski on Friday after the junior gave up four goals on just 14 shots.
“Obviously they both played well here. Obviously Wilcox outplayed Mike last weekend,” Lucia said. “Now we’re back home, so we’ll wait and evaluate and see how they do this weekend.”