Gophers seek surge in offense vs. MSU

MINNEAPOLIS — For the second weekend in a row, the University of Minnesota men’s hockey team will have a non-traditional schedule.

The Gophers had an exhibition game last Friday, followed by a Sunday afternoon regular-season game against Canisius. This weekend, Minnesota will play a home game Friday night at Mariucci Arena, followed by a Saturday night game in Mankato as part of a home-and-home series with Minnesota State.

The reason for the scheduling has to do with football. Minnesota’s football team was home last weekend and is home again this weekend, taking up parking spaces for games at TCF Bank Stadium — right across the street from Mariucci Arena. While the Gophers hockey team can play night games at home if the football team plays an 11 a.m. game, the times for the recent football games weren’t announced until a week before the game.

So while Jerry Kill’s football team will be playing an 11 a.m. game this Saturday against Michigan, Don Lucia and the hockey squad will be on the road, an hour and a half away in Mankato.

“I don’t mind them. We’re this close and you don’t have to deal with a hotel,” Lucia said of the home-and-home series. “It’s probably easier for us to go down on Saturday because you don’t have to worry about the traffic and getting out of here. … I think for the fans, they probably like it because it’s one game a weekend at home. They can go do something else on Saturday.”

The same two teams will play another home-and-home series later this season, when the Gophers host the first game of a series in late January, followed by a game the following night in Mankato. Minnesota has done the same thing in past years with St. Cloud State, another school just a short drive from the Twin Cities.

Still, after last weekend’s goofy schedule that included a rare Sunday afternoon game, this weekend’s home-and-home doesn’t exactly help the Gophers get back into a regular routine.

“That threw a little wrench in the ol’ schedule and the old routine, too, having that Sunday afternoon game,” said Gophers junior defenseman Nate Schmidt. “You’ve got to be able to be ready for anything this season throws at you.”

Where’s the offense?: After scoring seven goals in an exhibition game against Lethbridge and a total of 12 goals in the season-opening series against Michigan State, the Gophers have scored just nine goals in their last four games. That includes a 1-0 win on Sunday against Canisius and a 2-2 tie with the U.S. Under-18 Team last Friday in an exhibition game.

Junior forwards Nick Bjugstad and Erik Haula lead Minnesota with three goals each, while four players have netted two goals through five regular-season games. Last year, the Gophers scored 35 total goals in their first six games.

It’s early, though, and Minnesota isn’t worried just yet about a shortage of goals.

“I don’t think there’s a problem, just things aren’t falling,” Schmidt said. “You saw last weekend, Kyle Rau a couple times on the backdoor hitting a skate blade or hitting a shin pad. Those things, they’re going to correct themselves through the next couple weekends. We’ve got to get more traffic in front of the net and bang home some more rebounds.”

A familiar face: When the Gophers face off against the Mavericks this weekend, a familiar face will be across the way from Lucia. Mike Hastings is in his first year as the Minnesota State head coach, taking over for Troy Jutting.

After many years as the head coach for the Omaha Lancers of the USHL, Hastings served as an assistant on Lucia’s staff at Minnesota for the 2008-09 season before leaving to take a job as the associate head coach at Nebraska-Omaha. After three years at UNO, the Minnesota native Hastings was named the head coach of the Mavericks in April.

“He wanted to be a head coach, and he made that perfectly clear when he came that he was leaving junior hockey because of the grind,” Lucia said of Hastings. “He wanted to get into the college game. His goal was to become a Division I head coach. … There’s only so many jobs. You’ve got to be willing to make the move when the opportunity’s there, and I think it was a good move on his part.”

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