Two Gopher teams made the final haul up to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan Friday and Saturday but they needed only one bus. The team that struggled to find its offense and made numerous defensive gaffs Friday night lost 5-3 at Michigan Tech. The group that stormed back to win 3-2 on Saturday looked very much like the No. 1 team Minnesota had been when it left Minneapolis. It also created a strong win, the 600th in Head Coach Don Lucia’s long Division 1 career. (More on that below.)
Forecheck, please: A primary contributor to Friday’s ugly loss was an almost universal failure to create scoring chances, which happens — who knew? — when a team leaves its forecheck back at the hotel. It must have been somewhere Friday night but it certainly wasn’t at the John McInnes Ice Arena in Houghton. On Saturday, the voracious forecheck that scalded Michigan State last weekend created chance after chance on the Huskies’ outstanding rookie goaltender, Pheonix (that’s how he spells it) Copley and the Gophers managed a split in the weekend series.
Stirring up the D: Another major factor in Saturday’s win was a shakeup in defensive pairings, some of which were new while others revisited last season’s lineup. Here’s how the blueliners were paired in the two games:
Friday: Seth Helgeson, Ben Marshall Mike Reilly, Mark Alt Brady Skjei, Nate Schmidt
Saturday Jake Parenteau, Schmidt Marshall, Alt Helgeson, M. Reilly
Result: Markedly improved defensive zone play, D-to-D and D-to-forward outlet passing and better decision-making with and without the puck. And, of course, a big win.
Lucia joins 600 club: With Saturday’s win, Lucia becomes only the tenth coach in NCAA history to post 600 wins. He also is the first ever to hit that mark entirely at the Division I level, an astonishing feat.
When asked whether it ever entered his mind that he would coach that many wins, Lucia replied: “Never. In fact, I never foresaw that I would even still be coaching into my fifties.”
But Lucia isn’t quite the same coach now that he was 600 wins ago behind the bench at the University of Alaska-Anchorage.
“I’m a lot more patient now,” Lucia said. “I wasn’t then but I’ve learned to take things more evenly over the years.”
U.P. adieu? With Minnesota’s departure from the WCHA following this season, Michigan Tech will be among a handful of teams we may or may not see again in their home lairs. The Huskies will remain in the league but whether the Gophers will ever make the trek to Houghton again is up in the air. Minnesota will have a number of dates available for non-conference games after it enters the Big Ten hockey conference but would like to accommodate in-state rivals and longtime rival North Dakota when it can be worked back into the schedule, which won’t be for a few years.
A farewell pasty: Fortunately, I was able to swing over to the Suomi Restaurant on Saturday for one of its signature pasties with gravy and cole slaw on the side — a YooPee tradition I’ve sorely missed over the last few years.
This week: The Gophers host the U.S. National Under-18 Team at Mariucci Arena for an exhibition tilt Friday night. The next one that counts is a rare Sunday matinee against those pesky Canisius Golden Griffins. More on those later in the week . . .