At Wednesday's media session, Gophers men's hockey coach Don Lucia said he jotted down some predictions a couple of weeks ago. He looked at the WCHA standings and schedule and tried to foretell the matchups for the first round of the WCHA playoffs.
Things turned out exactly as he expected, Lucia said. That includes the Gophers' rematch against Bemidji State this weekend at Mariucci Arena in the best-of-three series. Though the Gophers swept BSU last weekend in Bemidji--and hold a 12-1-1 advantage in the rivalry--the Beavers gave them a battle Friday and in parts of Saturday's game. And it's tough to defeat the same opponent four times in a row.
Still, the Gophers have the advantage of playing on a bigger ice sheet--which better suits their game--before a home crowd. Lucia said Wednesday he's trying to create a must-win mentality to keep his team from succumbing to the mental drift that has caused so much inconsistency in the past six weeks.
He did that last week, when the Gophers were pursuing a share of the MacNaughton Cup. To have any chance at the WCHA's regular-season title, they had to win at Bemidji and hope the results of other games swung their way. Lucia put the situation in tournament terms, which seemed to focus his team.
"We've tried to use the analogy with the guys that it's a semifinal and final from here on out,'' he said. "Last weekend, we had to win the semifinal to get to the championship game on Saturday. Even though we maybe couldn't control whether we won (the MacNaughton Cup), we had to win Friday to give us the opportunity.
"We'll use the same thing this weekend. We've got to win Friday to get to Saturday. If we win Saturday, we move on. Then it becomes a true single-game elimination. We want that to be our mentality, that we've got to win Friday to get to Saturday.''
Lucia said the Gophers remain in good physical health for the first round. Defensemen Nate Schmidt and Ben Marshall both said the team is in a good mental state as well.
"Guys are really ready for the playoffs,'' Schmidt said. "You make your name during the year, but you make your living in the playoffs. All our older guys know that.''