Michael Russo has covered the National Hockey League since 1995. He has covered the Minnesota Wild for the Star Tribune since 2005, after 10 years of covering the Florida Panthers for the Sun-Sentinel. He uses “Russo’s Rants” to feed a wide-ranging hockey-centric discussion with readers, and can be heard weekly on KFAN (100.3 FM) radio and seen weekly on Fox Sports North.

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Posts about Gophers postgame

Gophers beat Notre Dame, now look to climb up the WCHA standings

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: January 9, 2013 - 7:54 AM
 
The No. 1-ranked Gophers finished their non-conference portion of the schedule with an 8-0 record by beating No. 2-ranked Notre Dame 4-1 tonight at Mariucci Arena.
 
Not a good couple days for the Fighting Irish, first getting spanked in the BCS championship by Alabama, then this. The Gophers’ student section, which was particularly mean tonight (and I mean that with respect; I wish a lot of the Gophers’ atmosphere would filter into the X for Wild games), started to chant “ALABAMA” in the waning minutes.
 
I got a chuckle out of it at least.
 
With Erik Haula hurt, Nate Condon moved to second-line center and looked like a natural. He did grow up playing the position, was great in all three zones and continues to dazzle at times with his lights-out speed. He played between Sam Warning and captain Zach Budish, and all three had a goal and assist.
 
Christian Isackson scored a filthy, filthy third goal by going backhand, top shelf after A.J. Michaelson impressively muscled a defender off the puck after an gritty forecheck. It was a SportsCenter Top 10 as you can see here, and look even makes a cameo (courtesy of @cjzero on Twitter).
 
Adam Wilcox was awesome as usual, making 22 saves and now has the second-best winning percentage in Division I college hockey (.806). His 1.60 goals against average is sixth.
 
It was a defensive struggle. The Gophers played a patient game and were able to because they played with the lead all game (12-0-3 when they score first). Also, the Irish hadn’t played in 24 days, so they weren’t sharp early.
 
“It was a little closer checking than maybe I might have expected,” Notre Dame coach Jeff Jackson said. “We started off a little slow.”
 
Now that the 14-3-3 Gophers are done with the non-conference games, it’s time for them to gain some ground in the WCHA standings. The Gophers are No. 1 in the nation yet sixth in the WCHA out of 12 teams. Yes, they have two games in hand and are only four points back of Nebraska-Omaha, but still sixth.
 
“Now we’ve got to get back into the league,” Don Lucia said.
 
It was a family affair for the Lucias tonight. Not only did Don face off vs. Mario in the game, he was honored pregame for his 600th win back on Oct. 20 at Michigan Tech. His entire family was on the bench in a feel good moment.
 
Lucia said he didn’t know about it and didn’t want it, but he got grief from his wife when he got home today. The family asked the ceremony to be put off until the entire family was in town. Daughter Ali is back for the first time since September from Virginia, so the Lucias will have their family Christmas Wednesday.
 
On Mario’s play after coming back from world juniors in Russia, Jackson said, “He didn’t look bad. He just probably needed to be a little stronger over the puck in some instances, but I thought he played well.”
 
Lucia will give the Gophers Wednesday off in preparation for their weekend series vs. Alaska Anchorage. The Gophers hadn’t played since pounding Boston College on Dec. 30, so Lucia has been practicing them a lot lately and he felt some of the players were sluggish tonight and didn’t have their legs.
 
Check out the game story on www.startribune.com/gophers for the rest of the details.
 
This was my swan song. Now that the Wild is back, I am returning to that beat.
 
I had a blast covering the Gophers during the lockout and it’ll be difficult to just turn it off, so I plan to continue to at least come to as many games as I can just to watch. Don Lucia, Mike Guentzel and Grant Potulny were awesome to deal with, as well as hockey SID Brian Deutsch.
 
But it’s time to me to return full-time to the Wild.

Bjugstad leads Gophers' 8-1 trouncing of No. 1 Boston College; Haula injured

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: December 31, 2012 - 9:20 AM

The Gophers handed No. 1-ranked, defending NCAA champ Boston College its most lopsided loss since Feb. 24, 1996, tonight with an 8-1 trouncing.

 
That night against New Hampshire, the Eagles lost 10-0. There have been a handful of six-goal losses since, but none by more than six.
 
Read the game story for many of the details on www.startribune.com/gophers, but Nick Bjugstad scored a career-high two goals and two assists, Kyle Rau scored two goals and an assist, captain Zach Budish tied a career-high with three assists and Adam Wilcox made a career-high 32 saves and nearly had a second shutout in two nights.
 
The conference rook was named tournament MVP and continues to impress coach Don Lucia. Last night against Air Force, Lucia was anxious to see if his timing would be off after three weeks of holiday break. Tonight, Lucia was anxious to see how Wilcox would handle the test of the No. 1 team in the nation and terrific offensive juggernaut.
 
As usual, Wilcox passed with flying colors. He even assisted on Sam Warning’s shorthanded breakaway tally. Wilcox is eighth in the nation with a 1.63 goals against average. He has a .927 save percentage. His 12 wins are tied for second in the country and his .794 win percentage ranks second.
 
“It’s nice to be in a little groove,” he said (a little?).
 
Warning also had two points, Nate Condon, Seth Ambroz and Nate “Quote Machine” Schmidt also scored goals and 12 players had points. The Gophers scored four times on the power play.
 
Potentially bad news though. Leading scorer Erik Haula, who had two assists, leads the Gophers with 26 points and has points in 14 in a row (two points from 100), left the ice writhing in pain after taking a nasty slash on I believe Rau’s third-period goal. He was seen with ice packs on both hands after the game and didn’t accept his all-tournament team award postgame on the ice.
 
Lucia said he got “dinged” and would be evaluated by doctors in the next few days. He will provide an update mid-week.
 
Also on the all-Gopher/all-tournament team was Bjugstad, Rau, Schmidt, Jake Parenteau and Wilcox.
 
Now, before you start to think that such an impressive win automatically means they should hand the Gophers the national championship now, know this: the Eagles were without leading scorer Johnny Gaudreau and two injured defensemen, Patch Alber, who may have torn his meniscus in a pregame soccer game Saturday night, and Isaac MacLeod, who has a shoulder injury.
 
So Lucia said you kinda have to “asterisk” this win, but he still was proud of the all-around performance by his team and happy with the weekend as a whole (includes a 4-0 win over Air Force).
 
Also, in the Thursday availability, Lucia said by name that Bjugstad, Rau and Condon needed to contribute more offensively. All three had big weekends.
 
“They know it,” Lucia said. “They had not scored at the level that I think they’re capable of, not because they haven’t been trying. It had to happen. When you start putting some pucks away and getting some points, you feel better about yourself and walk a little taller. Nothing’s worse for an offensive player when you’re struggling to score.
“It just weighs down on you. We had good contributions from a lot of guys this weekend and that’s what we have to have from here on out.”
 
Bjugstad said he wasn’t happy with his first half. He now leads the team with 10 goals. He said he spent the holiday break shooting a lot of pucks and trying to refocus.

“He’s a big, strong player,” Boston College coach Jerry York said of Bjugstad. “I think it’ll benefit him by staying another year in college. I thought that was clearly a good choice for him. Chris Kreider did the same thing the year before. It helped him. There’s no rush getting in the pros. [Bjugstad’s] getting better and better.”
 
What’s cool is Lucia has signed up Boston College and Northeasten to four-year commitments, so Gophers fans will get to see B.C. starting next year.
 
Next up for the Gophers: Jan. 8 against No. 3 Notre Dame, who happens to have a pretty good freshman named Mario Lucia.
 
OK, that’s it for me. I’ll update you with the new rankings Monday. The NHL and NHLPA are expected to meet in person Monday as well.
 
Also, I will be filling in for Common from 12-3 Wednesday on KFAN (100.3-FM). One of my guests may be Don Lucia.

Gophers blank Air Force, move on to Sunday showdown with No. 1 Boston College

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: December 29, 2012 - 10:49 PM

Solid performance here at Mariucci Arena Saturday night by the Gophers. They made simple work of Air Force en route to a 4-0 win and now advance to the big showdown Sunday night at 7 against No. 1-ranked Boston College, the defending national champions and the team that ended the Gophers' season last spring.

Biggest game in town in the Twin Cities on Sunday, right?

Well, other than the little football game being played a few miles away.

Read the game story on www.startribune.com/gophers for all the details, but Erik Haula scored a goal and assist for his 26th career multi-point game, Ryan Reilly scored his first college goal, Kyle Rau and Nate Condon also scored and the always reliable Adam Wilcox showed zero rust from three weeks off by making 18 stops for his third career shutout.

With younger bro Mike Reilly roaming Ufa, Russia, with the American junior team and twin bro Connor Reilly out for the season, Ryan Reilly repped the Reilly clan impressively by using his speed and making himself noticeable all night. Then he scored his goal on a beauty crash of the net to one-time Christian Isackson's pretty feed.

Big game for Reilly because Don Lucia said he plans to play him again Sunday against Boston College, which is big because Reilly, 21, had been scratched in seven consecutive games and 12 of 18 this season. A.J. Michaelson originally was expected to play Sunday, but with the line of Reilly-Isackson-Justin Holl pretty effective, we'll see if Lucia makes a change now.

Lucia was happy with the way his team played. He liked the play of all four lines, the way the six defensemen got pucks through and of course how Wilcox always seems to make the big save when his team needs it. There was that 2-on-1 in the first period with the Gophers up 1-0, the breakaway in the third with the Gophers up 2-0.

So good game all around.

Now B.C. They beat Alabama-Huntsville, 5-2, tonight for Jerry York's NCAA record-breaking 925th win. Lucia joked with him after, "I'm no threat." Lucia has 609 wins in 26 seasons, but the successful coach has made it quite clear he doesn't plan to coach into his retirement years.

For more on York, the Eagles' lineup (they have injury issues and are without one of their best players) and an NHL CBA update, please see the previous blog.

OK, I'm outta here. My wakeup call for this morning's 3:30 a.m. Canada-U.S. world junior game comes in 4 1/2 hours.

Where's the watch party at?

Gophers postgame: Message delivered and received

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: December 1, 2012 - 11:03 PM

As Don Lucia said, “this was an important game for us” after not only losing 3-2 Friday night, but doing so in a pretty unacceptable fashion.

 
The Gophers were lethargic and sloppy, turning the puck over 50 times and registering only 17 hits by the coaches’ count. Lucia wanted to see a response and he saw just that during a 3-2 win over Nebraska Omaha tonight.
 
It saved me from perhaps going with another Counting Crows lead for a second day in a row. Lead singer Adam Duritz, whom I know, saw my lead from Saturday’s paper about his song, “Omaha,” and tweeted me, “Haha. You kill me Mike. Just can't imagine how, on this day of ALL days, you resisted tossing in a "Long December" reference.”
 
Actually, that would have been clever (Duritz is a much better writer than me) and I joked back that maybe I’d go with that tonight if the Gophers lost.
 
Speaking of losing, Denver lost to Wisconsin, so the Gophers moved into third in the WCHA with 12 points – three behind DU. If St. Cloud State loses at Alaska Anchorage (the Huskies are down 2-0 as I write), the Gophers will be tied with them for second in the conference.
 
Lucia sent a message to his players tonight by scratching Mark Alt, moving Jake Parenteau back to the blue line, inserting Justin Holl on defense, and scrambling his forward lines.
 
But even Nate Condon, who was supposed to play on the first line, barely played there because Lucia wasn’t happy with Travis Boyd’s play. So Condon wound up moving to center.
 
It was that kind of night. An example? The eventual Tom Serratore second-period winning goal was created by Condon and Christian Isackson, who forced the turnover, “and that wasn’t even a line on the line chart,” Lucia said.
 
As for Alt, Lucia said he wanted the veteran defenseman to just watch a game from up top and he indicated he’ll be back in against Colorado College next week.
 
But Lucia was very pleased with Holl’s game with Seth Helgeson, and the play from Ben Marshall on the back end.
 
Nate Schmidt was outstanding in every area tonight, and the whole D corps was for the most part. It wouldn’t shock me if Alt returns to the lineup next weekend and maybe Brady Skjei comes out. He’s been seeing less and less ice time lately.
 
Sam Warning played a pretty solid game. He brings so much speed and energy, and Lucia was pleased with Isackson’s play.
 
Erik Haula scored a goal and assist and Nick Bjugstad scored as well. Haula is tied for second in the WCHA with 19 points. He’s eight points from 100. The Gophers scored two power-play goals and outshot UNO 33-20.
 
“A lot of guys had really good energy and they responded the way we needed to,” said Lucia.
  

Postgame: Gophers asleep at the switch in the final 40 minutes

Posted by: Michael Russo Updated: November 30, 2012 - 11:27 PM

Measured and disappointed but not at least publicly angry, Don Lucia said it simply: “I always judge our game by continuity coming up the rink and making the plays, and it was kind of like one guy slapping it and the next guy trying to get it and slapping it to the next guy.

“There was no cohesiveness to our game tonight.”
 
None at all, especially in the second and third periods when the Gophers couldn’t get anything accomplished and plainly looked lethargic as Nebraska-Omaha took Game 1 of the two-game set, 3-2, here at Mariucci.
 
 
The Mavericks extended their win streak to seven games while the Gophers’ six-game unbeaten streak was extinguished. They rematch Saturday night at 7.
 
Zach Budish’s turnover led to Josh Archibald’s winner early in the third as the Gophers’ nine-game home unbeaten streak dating to last March ended.
 
This was the biggest test of the Gophers’ season, and they certainly weren’t up to snuff as UNO’s gigantic defensemen kept the Gophers to the outside and away from John Faulkner’s kitchen.
 
“We were pretty sloppy,” Budish said. “We were missing our passes. We didn’t get pucks deep behind their defensemen. We had a lot of turnovers.”
 
The Mavericks scored first 4:17 into the game when Dominic Zombo got a step on Nate Schmidt, drove to the net and buried Archibald’s seeing-eye pass. It was Zombo’s fifth goal after two all of last year and extended his point streak to six games.
 
But the Gophers would respond just 83 seconds later.
 
First, Erik Haula spun along the half wall, bounced off a check and got the puck to Sam Warning, who made a beautiful one-touch pass to Budish alone in the slot.
 
Budish tied the score with his fourth goal.
 
Later in the period, Christian Isackson, standing between the circles, took Nick Bjugstad’s pass and surprised Faulkner with a quick shot and his first goal since the Oct. 12 opener. The tally snapped a 12-game drought for sophomore from St. Thomas Academy.
 
The Gophers looked sleepy in a poorly-played second period. They went the first 7:02 without a shot, although on that sequence, Faulkner made a brilliant save to rob Isackson on Mark Alt’s rebound.
 
The Mavericks tied the game at 2-2 with one second left on a power play. Ryan Walters, who also played at St. Thomas Academy and once upon a time uncommitted from the Gophers, set up Jaycob Megna, who stepped up from the point, in the left circle for a blast.
 
Then it was Walters who fed Archibald with the winner.
 
Just not a good effort from the Gophers, and it was troubling. Judging by those on Twitter, they’re starting to have a lot of doubters for a 9-3-2 team.
 
We’ll see if their play Friday sparks a better effort Saturday. If not, that will be a bigtime signal that something is off with this team right now.
 
Lastly, here is a feature I wrote in Saturday's paper on the women's team, which has won an NCAA record 24 in a row. They host Wisconsin Saturday and Sunday at 2 p.m. Saturday's game costs just 1 measly dollar. Go see 'em

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