Trivia question: If the Gophers had to win one faceoff, who would you put out there? The answer is at the bottom of this post.
SO FAR, SO GOOD
The Gophers are ranked No. 2 in both national polls this week and continue to sit atop the WCHA standings, although by just one point over Minnesota Duluth.
So are they satisfied with their first half -- after this weekend, they will have played 14 of their 28 conference games?
"There is much more to do," sophomore defenseman Nate Schmidt said. "Obviously, we'd be happy where we are in the standings.
"With the way we have played in the first half, there is a lot of room for improvement. We had the good stretch in the beginning of the year. We want to get back to that -- those winning ways when we had those good weekends back to back to back. Just continue to move forward as a team."
The Gophers began the season 9-1 and, in that stretch, had five- and four-game winning streaks and rose from oblivion (among the unranked in one major poll) to the nation's No. 1 team for two weeks. They are on a modest three-game unbeaten streak now (2-0-1).
"Like coach Guentzel [associate head coach Mike Guentzel] always says, 'If you are not getting better, you are getting worse.' We just want to continue to get better each weekend," Schmidt said.
Schmidt is fifth on the Gophers in scoring with one goal and 17 assists for 18 points, most on the power play. He is first among defensemen in points by a big margin; sophomore Mark Alt is second with two goals and six assists for eight points.
TECH A CHALLENGE
Michigan Tech, the Gophers opponent this weekend, has had some big wins this seasons, especially at home. The Huskies swept Wisconsin early this year.
"They are much different," said Schmidt, referring to a Tech team that was last in the WCHA the past three seasons. "A lot of their leading scorers last year were freshmen guys. I played against some of those guys in the USHL. They are good players. They have the new coach [Mel Pearson] in there this year. They really have turned the program around. They are doing a lot of good things. Had a good start this season.
"They had a little rough spot there. But they are coming back. They are playing good hockey right now. It is fun to play a good team going into the break. You know where you stand at the end of the first half."
After Saturday, coach Don Lucia is giving his player time off until Dec. 26 although most of them skate or work out a bit on their own. Next week is finals week at the 'U,' always a busy time.
The Gophers' next games are Dec. 30 and 31 when they play in the Mariucci Classic. Their first opponent will be Niagara. Their second opponent will e either Northeastern or Princeton.
HOME SWEET HOME
The Gophers are 8-1-0 at home this season. And that's quite an improvement from the last two seasons.
:"One of our goals at the start of the year with coach Lucia, the coaching staff and our team was that, we wanted to protect home ice as much as possible," Schmidt said. "It has gotten away from us the past couple of years. Not playing well at home. That is one of the biggest things, getting in front of home fans and performing the way we can."
Last season the Gophers were 9-10-3 at home and in 2009-10 they were 10-9-1, not much better. The last time the Gophers had a good record at Mariucci was when the present seniors were freshmen. That season, 2008-09, the Gophers were 11-5-6 and one could argue that's too many ties.
Schmidt said one reason for this season's good record is the team's approach to home games: The Gophers have tried to put "a better product on the ice than what we have seen the past couple of years by working hard and blocking shots. We kind of changed our mentality over the past couple of years."
Answer: For one faceoff, the best Gopher would be Zach Budish, a 6-3 right winger. He has won 17 of 23 draws, or 73.9 percent. Only defenseman Justin Holl has a better success rate and he doesn't count. He has taken just one faceoff.