Gophers coach Don Lucia recently talked about how important the next four games are to his team. That they will decide if his team can contend for a second consecutive MacNaughton Cup.

The Gophers play at first-place St. Cloud State this coming weekend and then journey to Madison, Wis., to play the Badgers at the Kohl Center on Friday and in an outdoors game two days later at Soldier Field in Chicago.

The Badgers got off to an awful start with key injuries, a star freshman being suspended. Even one of coach Mike Eaves' assistants, Bill Butters, quit abruptly.

But Eaves has righted the sinking ship. Wisconsin had an 11-game unbeaten streak (7-04) until losing 4-1 to North Dakota on Saturday before 11,962 at The Ralph in Grand Forks.

The Badgers (11-9-6, 8-6-6) gave up a power-play goal in the first minute and another later in the opening period. UND was 2x8 on the power play, Wisconsin 0x5.

Goal-scorers for UND were Mark MacMillan, Joe Gleason and Michael Parks (two).

Here is an interesting stat: When UND took a 2-0 lead against the Badgers, it was the first time in 17 games they had trailed by two goals.

After falling behind 4-0, the Badgers finally scored on Mark Zengerle's goal.

Last weekend's meetings were the 162nd and 163rd between Wisconsin and UND. But they have agreed to play each other in nonconference games next season when UW joins the Big Ten Conference and North Dakota the National Collegiate Hockey Conference.


North Dakota really needed the win on Saturday. The team formerly known as the Fighting Sioux was on a five-game winless streak (0-2-3) -- it's longest in 10 years.

Parks, obviously, had a big game for them. The sophomore forward  from St. Louis, Mo., had missed 18 of the first 19 games with injuries but has five goals in 11 games since his return.

"It's very important,'' UND coach Dave Hakstol said of the getting contributions from Parks and others. "We have to get scoring throughout our lineup. That's something that hasn't happened over the last three weeks.''

UND's slide began at Mariucci last month when the Gophers beat North Dakota 5-1 and then tied UND 4-4.

North Dakota (14-8-6, 9-5-6) is tied for third in the WCHA race with the Gophers and Denver going into a road series at Nebraska Omaha. One of the games is outdoors.

Wisconsin is in sixth, but just two points behind the traffic jam in third. The Badgers play Bemidji State at the Kohl Center this weekend.