Gophers coach Don Lucia is happy where his team is. And he should be.
The Gophers, picked to finish sixth in the WCHA by the coaches and media in preseason polls, are in first place with only four conference series left.
"We are exactly where we want to be at this point in the season," Lucia said. "We have four weeks to go, but we certainly don't want to look further ahead than what we have coming up."
That would be the Denver Pioneers. On Friday and Saturday at Magness Arena in the Mile High City.
"They are a team that was picked to win the league," Lucia said. "They are very talented. They have had some injuries during the course of the season, but now, this is the time of the year they are starting to get most of their guys back. They are one of the most talented teams we have in our league."
DU is 8-2-0 in the last 10 games with the Gophers.
"We have struggled out there," Lucia said. "The biggest thing is our inability to score much."
In those eight losses to DU in recent years, the Gophers have scored only five goals. "Not more than one a night," Lucia said. "And you are not going to win many games like that."
The biggest thing the Gophers need to do to win this weekend, Lucia said, is to take care of the puck: "They are a great transition team. The more we can make sure to get pucks behind their D, and not turn pucks over in the neutral zone or at their offensive blue line, I think the better chance we will have."
PENTICTON TOO GOOD?
On Tuesday, the Penticton Vees beat Chilliwack 7-0 on the road for their record 30th BCHL win in a row. Mario Lucia, Don's younger son, had two goals and one assist and was named the No. 1 star. The three Reilly brothers of Chanhassen -- twins Connor and Ryan, two forwards, and defenseman Mike -- had five assists between them. The Reilly boys will all be Gophers next season.
"They have a very good team," Don Lucia said. "Almost their whole team is going on to play college somewhere. Obviously, there head coach and general manager Fred [Harbinson] did a great job of putting the team together. They are having a real quality, great experience out there. It has worked out really well for everybody."
But, coach, is playing on such a dominant team good for the Reilly's development?
"Learning how to win is something," Lucia said. "That is important. Continuing to score at young levels is important. There is a young man from Denver that played on that team [last season].
"[Pioneers defenseman Joey] LaLeggia is having a pretty darn good first year in the WCHA and may end up being rookie of the year. That tells you how good a group they come out of."
LaLeggia is third in scoring on DU, with 10 goals and 19 assists for an NCAA-high 29 points among freshman.
THE DON SAYS
* On captain Taylor Matson: "He has been a heart and soul player. He competes so hard. He sets the bar high for everybody to try to get over that bar in order to continue to compete and play at his level. [He] has been great, now we are keeping our fingers crossed that he can stay healthy for the first year of his career as a senior. Because he plays in every situation and is fearless the way he plays."
* On the Gophers off week: "Last week we practiced Monday. We took Tuesday completely off. Went Wednesday, Thursday, Friday. And gave them Saturday and Sunday off. We have had a good week of practice [this week]. They seem fresh. And hopefully the off week won't catch up to us that first period on Friday night."
* On goalie Kent Patterson: "Kent looks back on top of his game. He went through a stretch there where maybe he wasn't quite as sharp, which is going to happen during a long season. But he is standing up, he is challenging. He is making that first save.
On the Gophers' D-men: "Our group of six defenseman have done a really nice job of shot blocking, defending and getting the puck out of our zone. We haven't had to rely on two guys or four guys. All six have done a pretty good job."
RAU RAVES ABOUT DEFENSE
Gophers left winger Kyle Rau said the team's defense is a real strength.
"We have a real good goaltender back there," Rau said. "Pretty much every game we go into, we know we are going to have a chance to win because of him. And then we know we have a good D-corps. That's huge for us."
Rau, a freshman, has played on the Gophers' top line since the start of the season.
"Strengthwise I feel like a first-year player, unfortunately," said Rau, who has 13 goals and 28 points -- one behind LaLeggia. "But I am getting more and more confidence and I think I am past being a first-year [player]."
* Gophers center Nick Bjugstad on DU's Jason Zucker, a teammate of his on two World Junior teams: "I have gotten to see Jason Zucker the past couple of years, playing with him a little bit. He is an exciting player to watch, he is a fast player. He can score goals, so we have to make sure we contain him. And there are some other players on that team. Depthwise, they are pretty deep."