Gophers coach Don Lucia said Alaska Anchorage has a good older player that can lead them, Tommy Grant. The senior forward has 10 goals and 10 assists.
In the nets, the Seawolves rely mostly on a freshman, Rob Gunderson. He's young, but good.
"Their goaltending is much improved this year," Lucia said. "When you look what they have done -- they have gotten points just about every single weekend. [On seven of nine WCHA weekends, to be exact.] Playing up there [in Alaska], it should be a tough place to play with the travel. They have done a good job of recruiting and they certainly are a much improved team from a year ago."
UAA is also on the heels of the Gophers in the WCHA race. Minnesota and Colorado College are tied for sixth place with 16 points, the Seawolves (7-12-3, 6-10-2) are only two points behind with 14.
"A big part of that is more consistent goaltending." Lucia said. "For the most part, they have been a pretty good defensive team, but maybe in the past the goalie would let in a soft goal. Whereas now they are getting much better goaltending."
Gunderson has a 6-9-2 record and a solid 2.58 goals-against average. His save percentage is a bit low, at .896.
Grant, Gunderson and the other Seawolves got swept 3-2 and 5-1 at then-No 4 Denver last weekent, then flew straight to the Twin Cities. The team is staying at the Radisson Metrodome, maybe two blocks from Mariucci Arena. The Seawolves are using the visitors' locker room there and practicing next door at Ridder Arena, home of the Gophers women's hockey team.
"They have been here all week. So there is no travel [for them] this week," Lucia said.
"We have to make sure we come out with adequate energy on Friday night and find a way to win on Friday," Lucia said. "Friday is an important game of the weekend. It sets yourself up whether you can have a really good weekend or not or you are scrambling. Far too often we have played better on Saturday than we have on Friday."
The Gophers' home record is 5-6-3. Not great, but on Fridays it is especially bad at 2-5.
"We need to come out with a real good Friday effort," Lucia said. "But also understanding that it is going to be a low-scoring game. It is going to be a tight game and we have to try to win a one-goal game."
Of Alaska Anchorage's 20 games, 12 have been one-goal games, three have ended in ties.
"We have to get to three as most teams do," Lucia said, "and try to win 3-2. That is going to more the style of our team. I don't think we are going to win many games 5-1. Early in the season we scored a few more goals, but our goaltending was a litlte bit erractic early and defensively we had a lot of improvement to do.
"So we have improved in those two areas but, as we have done that, our goal totals have gone down."
The Gophers are coming off a 3-2, 1-4 split at then-No. 2 North Dakota. "[Our players] showed real well in a difficult environment," Lucia said. "Now we have to play that same way at home, the same urgency. We are guaranteed six more home games and we have to have a good run here at home."
He is right there, or the Gophers can start packing for the first-round of the WCHA playoffs. If the playoffs were beginning today, the 'U' would have the sixth and final home-ice spot. Colorado College would be at Minnesota.
THE DON SAYS
* On last week's second break after th holiday break: "We have done what we wanted to over the course of the break, but [the players] are anxious to get back to playing some games."
* On getting out of scoring slump -- Gophers have scored 21 goals in the last 10 games: "They've got to shoot. They have to work a little harder offensively and have a little better mindset to attack the net. Shoot the puck and not overpass. When you have a chance to shoot, go ahead and take your shot.
* On being more selfish: "Don't defer to someone else you think may have a better shot because more often than not the puck ends up in the corner or the other team makes a good defensive play and deflects the puck. We have to be in a position to shoot the puck more than we do. It's something we talk about -- and be in a position to score some more rebound goals."
* On why there is not a quick fix for the scoring woes: "As a group of forwards, the onus is on them. We have to score a little bit more than what we have scored. You look at the games around the league, from week to week, it is so close with all the teams. You have to have good goaltending and you have to be able to score a few goals on a given night. And a team that does that usually wins."
* On lack of big scorer and three freshman forwards: "You look at our team right now and I don't think we will have a 20-goal scorer. So we have to do a little more scoring by committee. We have a little more support from some of our underlying guys. And a guy like [Nick] Bjugstad. He is only sitting with a couple of goals and he has improved a lot. He is going to start scoring for us. [Erik] Haula can score a ittle more. [Nate] Condon, he had a big five-point night. He has been a little quiet lately. Guys like that, even though they are freshman, the role they have been allowed to play in, they are in a position now that they can produce and even think more offensive. Those are three of the guys we need to score on a more consistent basis."
* On lack of scoring by D-men: "We have always allowed our defensemen to join the rush. We encourage that,. We don't want them leading the rush. We want them being the fourth guy, the fourth attacker. We worked on that every week in practice. We don't want them taking chances. But again we want to use a defenseman in the offensive zone.
" I like to use the term, you have to make hockey plays, too. When a play is there and you can make a play, then try to make it. I don't we have ever tried to play here a real conservative style, especially with our defensemen.
"They need to do a better job of shooting. Too often they are looking to pass at the blue line, set somebody up on a backdoor play rather than pounding pucks. That has been an emphasis since Day One with these guys. Just pound the puck. Your job is not to score but to create rebounds, tips and deflections. It is not easy changing a mindset from the way a kid has played most of his life."
* On Gophers' changing lines: "We moved some things around during this last break. and put some players together and [are] giving some guys an opportunity. We will see how they play here this weekend whether we think this is the way things need to be or whether we need to make some changes. If they score some goals, then it becomes easy to leave things alone."
Here were the Gophers lines at Wednesday's practice:
Mike Hoeffel-Erik Haula-Jay Barriball
Comment: Jacob Cepis was left winger on this line in last series at North Dakota. Hoeffel adds a big body for the corners.
Jacob Cepis-Nick Bjugstad-Jake Hansen
Comment: Cepis had 10 shots against the Sioux and was really flying. Bjugstad is stuck on two goals, but had two different wings. Hansen takes Nick Larson's spot at right wing.
Taylor Matson-Nate Condon-Patrick White
Comment: Not sure who is center. Both Matson and Condon have played in middle a lot. Both were centers at the Ralph on different lines, White was a healthy scratch both nights.
Max Gardiner-Nico Sacchetti-Nick Larson
Comment: Gardiner was injured and missed trip to Grand Forks. Sacchetti was a right wing on fourth line and got game-winner in 3-2 victory over Sioux on Friday.
Tom Serratore-Jared Larson-Joe Miller
Comment: Only Serratore played against Sioux.
* On outoor game for next season: No update.
* On Mario Lucia's college decison: "We talked about it a couple weeks ago. I said, 'What is your timetable?' And he said at the end of his season." Mario, Don's younger son, is a junior forward for Wayzata, one of the top Class 2A teams in high school hockey. He is also rated the state's top high school prospect for the 2011 NHL draft in late June.