Gophers coach Don Lucia said Monday on his weekly radio show that there is a saying, "If you want to be The Man, you have to beat The Man."
In the WCHA, the Man last season was North Dakota. The Fighting Sioux won the MacNaughton Cup (regular-season title) and Broadmoor Trophy (Final Five title) during the 2010-11 season. This season, it has been a little different. The Fighting Sioux were swept on the road at Wisconsin and split at home with St. Cloud State, so they are off to a 1-3-0 confernece start.
Lucia said that was partly because UND's two veterans goalies, Aaron Dell and Brad Eidsness, both former all-league picks, had statistics not as good as usual. But he expected both to improve on them.
The Fighting Sioux have big, physical defensemen, Lucia said, but have had trouble scoring. They outshot Wisconsin by big margins in both their losses at the Kohl Center. They lost a lot of talented seniors, a couple of players left early and several players have been hurt, Lucia said, although freshman Rocco Grimaldi played last weekend and should be better this weekend.
He also said UND's top line of Danny Kristo, Brock Nelson and Corban Knight is probably as good as any in the nation.
To beat them, Lucia said, the Gophers will have to play with a high pace and energy.
Asked if the Fighting Sioux are the Gophers' biggest rival, Lucia said that is a question for fans to answer. He said some fan probably view Wisconsin as the Gophers' top rival, others North Dakota. But it is certain Mariucci will be full this weekend and it will be a good atmosphere.
Lucia said he is happy North Dakota is playing the Gophers at Mariucci Arena. The Gophers have played nine of the last 11 games in the series at the Ralph. That's partly because Minnesota had to travel there for a three-game, first round WCHA playoff series at the end of the 2009-10 season.
Lucia said he hopes to play North Dakota when the Gophers join the Big Ten Conference in 2014-15 and the Fighting Sioux become members of the National Collegiate Hockey Conference. But how often will depend on how many conference games the NCHC will play. The new conference could play up to 28 league games, he said, leaving room to schedule only six nonconference games.
He said the Gophers and the Fighting Sioux would play at Mariucci one year and at the Ralph the other in any scheduling arrangement they make after they are in different conferences.
Boston College coach Jerry York e-mailed Lucia about a fourth-year scheduling agreement. One year, the Gophers would head East and play Boston College and Boston University the same weekend, Lucia said, the next year, Boston College would play at Mariucci, then the Gophers would play at BU and BC and, in the fourth year, BU would visit the Gophers.
Lucia said the Gophers and Notre Dame have discussed playing each other, too. The Irish and Gophers play one game, the U.S. Hall of Fame Game, in early January this season.
LEAD KEY IN SWEEP
When Alaska Anchorage swept the Gophers 4-3 and 2-0 last March in the first round of the WCHA playoffs, the Seawolves never trailed in either game. Last weekend the Gophers won 5-0 and 3-1 in Anchorage.
"When you play UAA, it is so important to get the lead on them," Lucia said, "because they can lock it down when they have the lead. And Saturday was the type of game I expected it to be Friday. Basically, a 2-1 game where we scored the open-netter at the end. The guys had the mindset that they would stay patient and play that type of game and were willing to do that.
"We were disciplined and we got a couple power-play goals [on Friday]."
Lucia said the defense has also played well in front of goalie Kent Patterson. "We haven't given up many tips or rebound opportunities," he said. "That's an area, too, where [we tell] Kent, 'Just concentrate on making that first save and we will do the rest in front of you.' "
* Lucia called WCHA commish Bruce McLeod on Monday, thanking him for letting the Gophers play at Alaska Anchorage in October rather than in January or February as they have on recent trips. "It was a good week," he said. "We were able to get four points. Nobody was injured. We're healthy."
* The Gophers have made it mandatory that every player wear plastic skate covers in practice. He said it seems like every year somebody broke a foot in practice. Now players are getting hit with pucks, but it doesn't hurt much. "That has helped with the courage factor [in games] a little bit," Lucia said, "because that puck is hard. It is not like it is a soft deal when it is coming in at 90, 95. 100 miles an hour and you get hit with it.
"There were a lot of nice blocked shots on the weekend, but that's a buy-in factor. It shows the hunger that we need to continue to play with."
* On bad penalties: "Maybe what happened Sunday [against Vermont on Oct. 23] helped us win two games this past weekend." Against Vermont in a 5-4 loss, the Gophers committed several retaliatory penalties. The Catamounts scored two power play goals and Lucia let his players know that those penalties hurt the team.
* On keeping same line-up Friday and Saturday at UAA: "No longer are we going to change our line-up to change our line-up. That's what we had done the first six games ... to get some other guys in. Now if the guys we have playing are playing well and we have success as a team and there is no reason to change, we are not going to. It's up to guys not in the lineup to push guys that are."
* On Patterson, who has four shutouts: "He has done a nice job. He has to be our stabilizer because we go through our stretches where guys will make some mistakes in front of him. And what we thought, with a young D-corps, a young team, he is going to have to have moments in games where he covers up our mistakes."
The Gophers are rated No. 5 nationally in both major hockey polls this week. ... The first of five Blue Line Club luncheons this season is at 11:45 p.m. Friday at Jax Cafe in Northeast Minneapolis.