World Juniors teammates Fasching, Collins hope to jumpstart Gophers

Gophers sophomore forward Hudson Fasching, seen here playing against Boston College earlier this season, has eight points (five goals, three assists) in 15 games.

Courtesy: University of Minnesota Athletics

MINNEAPOLIS — It was a bit of a whirlwind this past weekend for Minnesota’s Hudson Fasching and Ryan Collins.

Fasching, a sophomore forward, and Collins, a freshman defenseman, both represented the United States at this year’s World Junior Championship. When the U.S. lost 3-2 to Russia on Friday in Montreal, it meant Fasching and Collins could return to join their Gophers teammates.

After a long day of travel and on very little sleep, both players were back in Minnesota’s lineup Saturday night against RIT. Not only did they both play, but Fasching had the primary assist on Kyle Rau’s overtime game winner.

"I got a good two-hour nap before the game. Otherwise I was pretty much just going on pure adrenaline," Fasching said this week. "It was a whirlwind of emotions. I slept like a rock Saturday night, I can tell you that much."

This year marked the second straight time Fasching has taken part in the World Juniors, one of hockey’s more prestigious tournaments. It pits the top junior players in the world against each other, with plenty of bragging rights at stake. And the fact that this year’s tournament was hosted in hockey-centric Canada, the intensity was turned up even more.

For Fasching, Collins and the United States, though, this year’s World Juniors were once again a disappointment. The U.S. exited earlier than it hoped, finishing without a medal once again.

"Obviously, getting fifth place two years in a row is not exactly what the U.S. had in mind when they went to the World Juniors both years," Fasching said. "I think we had enough talent. We had enough leadership on both teams to be able to go farther. It just kind of shows the importance of discipline and penalties."

Fasching’s teammate, freshman forward Leon Bristedt, also took part in the World Juniors as a member of the Swedish team. Sweden’s run in the tournament didn’t end until a loss Monday to Slovakia in the third-place game, so Bristedt wasn’t back for the Gophers’ Mariucci Classic this past weekend.

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With Bristedt, Fasching and Collins all back from the World Juniors, and with defenseman Brady Skjei cleared to return from an injury, the Gophers finally have what they feel is their full lineup for the first time in a long time. And they’ll need it, too, with two games at Michigan this weekend as Minnesota looks to get back on track following a disappointing weekend at home.

"We just haven’t had a lot of weeks where we could say, ‘OK, this is what our team’s going to look like,’" said Gophers coach Don Lucia. "That’s something we’re going to have to look and try to develop here the second half of the year. We have some guys that I think can be more productive than what they played, and that’s going to be the real key for us and for me the second half of the year is some of that production starting to show up on the score sheet."

One of those players includes Fasching. In 15 games with Minnesota, Fasching has just eight points (five goals, three assists). As Lucia pointed out, the 6-foot-2, 207-pound forward had a stretch of six games in a row before the Christmas break without a point.

Playing on the Gophers’ top two lines, Fasching knows he needs to produce. He’s hoping his experience at the World Juniors can help springboard him into the final stretch of Minnesota’s schedule.

"For me, it builds some confidence," he said. "It can hopefully translate here in the second half of the season and we can get some momentum here."

Minnesota as a team could use some momentum, too. The Gophers haven’t had back-to-back wins since early November and are slipping in the college hockey rankings. There is still plenty of season left, but Minnesota knows it needs to jumpstart things to get back on track.

"When we’ve struggled, we’re scoring one or two goals. It’s hard to win when you only score one or two goals," Lucia said. "When we get to three or four we’re in pretty good shape. We want to continue to be a good defensive team. The real key for me in the second half is some guys that maybe have been in and out offensively, can they become more consistent in their production game in and game out."

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