One of the reasons the Gophers are 6-1-0 and rated No. 8 is the strong play of the team's second line.
Sophomore Erik Haula, the Wild prospect, centers that line and had five goals and 14 points going into Friday's game against Alaska Anchorage. On his wings are senior Jake Hansen (3-8--11) who is second on the team in scoring and freshman Sam Warning (3-3--6).
"Erik is no surprise," Lucia said. "Erik is an extremely hard worker. And there is some chemistry with the line that he has, with [Sam] Warning there instead of [Jacob] Cepis and Hansenback from last year.
"It's just a confidence [with] Erik. He is shooting more and he has been through a year of college hockey and he has taken another step in his game. Nobody works harder than Erik and [his success] is well-deserved."
Lucia said Warning, who is from Chesterfield, Mo., a suburb of St. Louis, is improving, too. "He had a good weekend [against Vermont]," Lucia said, "and, as his confidence grows, we have high expectations for him. He played two years of junior hockey [in the USHL]. ... He is young, but he has talent and he will continue to improve. He should have a real nice year."
Combined those three players have 11 goals and 20 assists for 31 points in six games, so they are averaging more than five points per game.
The Gophers top line is Nick Bjugstad (5-4--9), Kyle Rau (6-3--9) and Zach Budish (2-4--6). It has 13 goals and 13 assists for 26 points.
One could say the Gophers really have two top lines so far.
SPECIAL TEAMS REALLY ARE
The Gophers' penalty kill had a rough season in 2010-11 but it seems much improved. "The guys have done a good job," Lucia said. "We had a lot of freshman that did it last year, now they are sophomores.
"And Kent [goalie Kent Patterson] has done a good job. It starts there with your goaltender," Lucia said. "We made a couple mistakes last weekend that ultimately resulted in goals, little things like stick positioning. [On] the second [goal] we gave a little bit of ground.
"Again those are things that you can show them on tape. 'OK guys, this is how important it is to be in a certain spot on the rink or to have your stick in a certain spot.' Because good players and good teams, when you are physically out of position with your feet or your stick, that is when those seam passes happen. So we are off to a good start on our specialty teams. That was an area we felt we had to improve and so far it has been a real bright spot."
The Gophers' PK is at 87.9 percent, their power play is at a NCAA-best 37.5.
"We have some skill and both units have looked good," Lucia said. "We have touched on it, how many young guys we had on the power play last year."
Nate Schmidt, a sophomore defenseman, is on the point on the first power play. Also up high usually is Haula. Down below are forwards Rau and Bjugstad and, by the net, Hansen.
"Nate Schmidt has done a nice job back on the blue line [as] Ben Marshall has done" on the second power play unit, Lucia said. "We have used four forwards and one D on both units."
With Marshall, a freshman D, have been four of these five forwards: Budish, Warning, Nate Condon, Seth Ambroz and Taylor Matson.
"We also have at times had a third unit out with two D on it as well. We have worked on the [power play] a lot. They have started to develop some chemistry on it. But it is streaky. You can have a great weekend and then go a couple weeks when you don't get many chances and nothing is going in or you hit a pipe. So far [our shots] have been going in."
The Gophers have 12 power play goals, an average of exactly two per game.
On high school hockey in Alaska -- remember he was an assistant and head coach at Alaska Fairbanks at one time: "Alaska has very good hockey. They've got a good youth system. They travel all over. They come from triple-A. And even once their kids get into high school a couple of things happen, They will play triple-A midgets, then high school, then have a break for Christmas where they go back to triple-A midgets. Then at the end of the year, when their high school season ends, they are back on their midget team.
"Some of [the state of Alaska's] top kids will leave. There are kids at Shattuck-[St. Mary's in Faribault] and there are kids playing junior hockey as well. It is not like there are a lot of high schools that play hockey because of the population base where they are, but their top-end kids have been very good. They get a lot of games. They start in September and they get the best of both worlds [high school and triple-A]."
On the impact of Schmidt: "He can distribute the puck [on the power play]. He has a good hard shot and that helps open some things down low.
"His personality is coming out this year. It is hard when you are not playing a lot. [Schmidt played in only 13 games as a freshman.] You get down and it is more of a grind. Now when he is getting all the ice time he can handle and he is having success, so now all of a sudden a bubbly personality starts to emerge."