Gophers coach Don Lucia knows what to expect in Grand Forks, N.D., this weekend.
"We have a very difficult start to our second half on the road with North Dakota," Lucia said on Monday during his radio show on 1500ESPN. "We did with our first half, too, when you open up at Duluth. This is an important weekend. We have to get some of those good, strong habits back that we had and try to build on where we are in the WCHA right now."
The Gophers, of course, are tied for first place in the standings with Minnesota Duluth.
That's a pretty lofty spot, considering they were picked by the coaches and the media to finish sixth in the preseason polls.
The past four seasons, the Gophers have finished seventh, fifth, seventh in a 10-team league and fifth among 12 teams last season
The Gophers beat North Dakota 2-0 and 3-2 in early November at Mariucci Arena, but UND, the team without a nickname since Jan. 1, is 8-2-1 since then.
"They have certainly stepped it up," Lucia said. "When you look at their team early in the year, everybody knew they had good goalies. They struggled a little bit out of the gate the first month. And then they struggled scoring goals early on."
Two weekends after playing the Gophers, UND swept Colorado College (7-6, 4-3) and that series got their offense going, Lucia said.
"They were sitting in a difficult spot in the league," Lucia said, "but to their credit they battled their way back like you expected. They have some awfully good players, an all-league goaltender returning and a veteran D-corps. Now they have some guys that are stepping up offensively and they are scoring. And that was the thing that was lacking for them early in the year."
North Dakota is still seventh in the WCHA in scoring, averaging 3.1 goals per game, or almost one goal less than the Gophers, second at 4.04 goals per game.
SPLIT LAST SEASON
"It will be a great test for our guys. I thought we played pretty well last year" in Grand Forks, Lucia said. "We won on Friday [3-2] and lost on Saturday [4-1]. It will take a great effort for us to get back on the winning track, but I think our guys will have a great week of practice and be excited to play."
At Mariucci early this season, Patterson made 24 saves in the Gophers' 2-0 victory on Friday. It was the Gophers' first shutout at home of UND since Dec. 12, 1993 when Jeff Moen won 3-0.
Patterson needed to make only 19 saves the next night as the Gophers outshot UND 42-19.
"We did a good job defensively when they were here last time," Lucia said. "We are going to have to try to win low-scoring games again this weekend."
Lucia said North Dakota counts on its top line to score every game. "And if they can get another group to contribute," he said, "which they are starting to get more contribution throughout their lineup, and then all of a sudden you get to three or four goals."
A team scoring that many goals, Lucia said, becomes dangerous.
* North Dakota's top line is made up of Brock Nelson (15 goals, 9 assists for 24 points), Danny Kristo (11-13--24) and Corban Knight (6-15--21). ... Knight has missed the last two games with a lower body injury.
SCSU LOSES FORWARD
Cam Reid, St. Cloud State's fifth-leading scorer, has left the team to join the Portland Winter Hawks of the Western Hockey League.
The Winter Hawks obtained his rights on Monday from Edmonton for an eighth-round pick in the 2012 WHL bantam draft.
They convinced him to leave the Huskies in midseason by promising him a chance to start at center on their first line between two high NHL draft picks, Ty Rattie, a second round pick of St. Louis, and Sven Bartschi, a first round pick of Calgary last year.
Reid, a seventh round pick of Nashville, told the Huskies it was too good of an opportunity for him to pass up. Huskies coach Bob Motzko wished him well in a news release.
The 6-3, 200-pound Reid of Delta, British Columbia, had six goals and nine assists for 15 points for the Huskies. He mostly played wing at SCSU.
His loss leaves Motzko with 12 healthy forwards, the minimum needed to play four lines. And one of those 12 is Joe Rehkamp who joined the team at midseason.
Two of the Huskies forwards are injured, and Reid is the second forward to leave recently.
The Winter Hawks still have 35 games and possibly the playoffs remaining on their schedule this season.