Senior left wing Jacob Cepis probably offers the best quotes on the Gophers team game in and game out.
Some players just have that gift. There's a reason teammates call him Papa Chirp. He's one of the older players, too.
Here'e the latest interview with Cepis. It's actually from last week when the Gophers had the weekend off.
"We'd like to be playng games, but at this time of the year it is good to have rest," Cepis said.. "We need to get better at some things in practice, like special teams. We have been good five-on-five, but special teams --"
The Gophers' penalty kill is among the worst in the WCHA.
"The good thing is, where we are at, we are not exactly in the best position," Cepis said, "but looking ahead we play all the good teams coming up, so we can really jump up in the rankings in our league. We are all excited because it is better to play the tougher teams down the stretch because you get more respect from that."
If you win. The Gophers are tied for sixth place with Colorado College in the expanded 12-team WCHA.
Among the teams still on their schedule are UMD, Denver and Wisconsin, all above the Gophers in the standings. Alaska Anchoage is in eighth place, just two points back of the U and CC.
"Not that some [of the other] teams we are playing coming up are not that tough," Cepis said. "Either way there are some of the top-ranked teams that we are going to be playing and it gives us an opportunity to prove that we are one of the better teams."
Cepis said it's not much different with Kent Patterson in the nets now, rather than Alex Kangas, who came into this season as the team's No. 1 goalie. Kangas is now out for the rest of the season after hip surgery.
"[Kent] has been good," Cepis said. "He has given us chances to win in every game. You look at every game, he has made tremendous saves. It could be one big save at the end of game or somewhere during the game when we really needed it. ... He has been steady. He doesn't really give up many goals.
"Our biggest problem is, we have to score more goals."
The last time the Gophers scored more than three goals in a game -- other than a 9-0 exhibition rout of the under-18 U.S. national team -- was Nov. 20 at Michigan Tech. That night the Gophers won 4-1.
""There are a lot of games where we fail to shoot the puck a lot," Cepis said. "That is one of our biggest problems. We try to make a pretty play too much. Now in hockey it is just too tough to get those pretty plays. Even in the NHL level or any level, everyone is so good on defense.
"We haven't been getting any super dirty or bouncing goals. That's really what we need. It starts with shooting the puck more. We've got to get more shots on net."
At North Dakota on Jan. 14-15, the Gophers had 29 shots on Friday in a 3-2 victory but were held to a season-low 24 on Saturday in a 4-1 loss.
Taking a closer look at those 24 shots, almost all were from the perimeter. Only three came from inside the circles. Minnesota's one goal was on defenseman Mark Alt's shot from the right point on a dump-in play in the first period. SIoux goalie Aaron Dell easily could have had a shutout.
"You like playing the best teams and North Dakota is probably the best team we've played all year," Cepis said. "No. 2 in the country [at the time]. Don [coach Don Lucia] gave us some pretty interesting stats. Their record at home on Fridays was just ridiculous. How can you not like playing games like that? It is going to be crazy like it was.
"I enjoyed it. It is the best atmosphere to get it going."
Cepis did his part to stir things up, too, at the end of the second period in the first game. After Sioux center Brad Malone checked Gophers defenseman Kevin Wehrs hard into the endboards, Cepis came to his teammate's aid and got a slashing penalty during a big scrum involving almost every player from both teams..
"I just wanted to back up Kevin to prove a point," said Cepis, the smallest Gopher at 5-8, 170. "If a guy gets hits like that whether it is clean or not clean, there has to be some room to say something to somebody and let them know that is not going to happen. I just thought it was the time to get in there and help a guy out."
Cepis liked the way his teammates responded to his lead.
"That was the best case scenario for us because that is what they wanted to do, is intimidate us," Cepis said. "We are not going to back down from teams if they want to run guys or do stuff like that. They are going to know that we will be right there, ready to throw some punches and get it going."
The Gophers matched the Sioux in hits much of the weekend, but were outscored 6-4.
"I was disappointed I didn't score," said Cepis, who had a team-high five shots each night. "I talked to Don -- and goals come in bunches. That is just the way it is. I was a little bit frustrated, but there is no reason to get down on yourself. If you are getting those shots, sooner or later they are going to go in. I like to shoot the puck. I will if nobody else will.
"It would be nice to get some of those goals where it banks off somebody and it hits somebody like Alt's shot. He shot it on net and look what happened. That [was] our big emphasis [last] week, special teams and getting back into that habit: You can be selfish once in a while and shoot the puck and not try a tic-tac-toe play."
"We are right in the middle of the pack, but look where we could go realistically," Cepis said. "The teams we get to play, if we can make up some ground, we can be in the top three or four right away. Our league is so close right now."
First place Denver has 27 points, North Dakota and UMD are tied for second one point back with 26. Fourth is Nebraska Omaga with 22. Wisconsin is fifth with 20. Then there is a four-point drop to the Gophers and CC with 16.
"It starts [this] weekend. We've got to win both those games [against Alaska Anchorage] and it goes from there," Cepis said. "You've got to get on a roll. That's the only way you are going to make up ground.
"The future is bright. We will be good down the stretch. We've got to beat the big dogs now to make up some ground."