MINNEAPOLIS – College hockey teams generally play about 36 games in the regular season, meaning that with a dozen already played, the Minnesota Gophers men are a third of the way to the playoffs.
Perhaps most notable when digging into the numbers around the 7-5-0 start – which has them in second place in the Big Ten and placed in seventh place nationally – is this: Of Gophers’ five losses, four have come on opening night in a series of two games.
In their first November game in Wisconsin on November 3, the Gophers led 2-0 in the second period and 3-2 in the third before falling to their arch-rival in overtime. Last Friday against Ohio State, the Gophers blasted out for a 3-0 lead after 20 minutes, then saw their advantage slowly slip away, falling 4-3 to the Buckeyes.
The recent loss caused Gophers coach Bob Motzko to distort his lines, and the team responded with perhaps the season’s most complete effort in last Saturday’s 2-0 win over Ohio State. Still, the team and the coach get the team and the coach to explore ways to open up their series in a stronger tone going forward.
Motzko has previously said, and repeated this week, that a coach should only kick the locker room trash can three times per week. season. This means that a coach who melts down on his players repeatedly will eventually be tuned out, but well-placed anger can be effective if used sparingly. Motzko kicked the trash can after Friday’s loss in Wisconsin, and his team responded with a 4-1 victory in the league final. After the come-from-ahead loss to Ohio State, Motzko was most impressed that the players corrected the ship on their own.
“I give our guys a lot of credit. Last weekend it was them. It was black and white, ‘Here are a few clips, do not do it’, and they responded, Motzko said, noting that it’s apparently still an ongoing one. work to learn to play a leading role. “We had a 2-0 lead and a 3-0 lead. There were things that happened in both games that were uncharacteristic, we identified (them), they take ownership, and hey, let’s get another 2-0 lead and see if we can do it. Let’s get another 3-0 lead and see if we can do it. ”
And if he’s going to leave the trash without a kick, Motzko stressed the need for team leaders to take over the role of standing up in the locker room and spreading the word that Friday night’s weaknesses are unacceptable.
‘It starts in practice and it starts Monday to Thursday. It’s just popping up on the rink ready to get better every day, and that will translate to both games this weekend, ”said Gopher’s co-captain Ben Meyers. “Everyone in the room knew we could not play that way. It was urgent to play better.”
The good news for the Gophers is that their 2-4-0 record on Friday so far has been balanced with a 5-1-0 mark in the second game in a series.
Great ice cream challenge
The Gophers men are among just a handful of programs playing on an Olympic-size ice rink that is 15 feet wider than the standard NHL size. Next door at the Knight Arena, the Gophers women play on a standard-sized ice plate. After a 1-3-0 start, Brad Frost’s team has won eight wins in a row and looks set to extend the streak this weekend.
Gophers has a home-and-home series against St. Cloud State, and plays Friday night on the Huskies’ Olympic-sized ice rink. It’s a new challenge for Gophers, who hopes to take advantage of the extra space after scoring 17 goals against RIT last weekend in Minneapolis. While some teams that come to play the Gophers men worry about the extra space, the Gophers women are fine with it.
“We do not mind. I think every player, unless you are terribly slow, likes to play on the big ice,” said Frost. “You can make the puck sweat and you have a little more time and We don’t get much (practice) time on the big ice cream before we get up there, but the opportunity to play up there is pretty cool. ”
Frost said his team will practice at least once on the men’s ice rink before heading up Interstate-94.
Close survives Madison scramble
Backup goalkeepers should be ready to stop puck at a moment’s notice. For the Gophers men, second-string player Justen Close suddenly got the call recently and proved to meet the challenge, albeit briefly.
In the first period of Gophers’ match in Wisconsin on November 6, regular starter Jack LaFontaine was injured when his leg was pushed back into the goalpost. He left the match and Close made a rare appearance in the fold, with his team ahead 3-0. Almost instantly, the Badger got a powerplay. No pressure, kid.
“Of course the circumstances were a little worrying. First of all, you think of Jack because it was a pretty scary game, but your attention has to shift pretty quickly. It was fun, it was exciting,” said Close, a junior from Saskatchewan who now has seen time in five games in two plus seasons in the U of M.
One minute after Close took his place between the goalposts, Gophers striker Blake McLaughlin was whistled off for unsportsmanlike conduct, making the challenge so much greater.
“I think it was Blake who said, ‘We have to protect Closer,’ because after me I do not know what we had next time in a row,” said Close, noting that they were without a third-string goalkeeper. that evening. . “First shift out there, he put their guy pretty well and put him on the ice, and that put us to death.”
Eventually, Close stopped all three shots he faced in two minutes of ice time, LaFontaine returned for the second period, and Gophers won.
“It was definitely good to get in and dip my toes in it,” Close said.
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