Back in mid-December, Gophers senior goalie and assistant captain Alex Kangas suffered an injury in a Saturday practice.
It happened on Dec. 11, the day the Gophers should have played Minnesota Duluth. But a snowstorm pushed the game back a day. And Kangas got hurt in an off-day practice, perhaps missing a chance to start on Sunday.
At the time, Gophers coach Don Lucia said Kangas "tweaked something." The phrase did not sound too serious, especially with an 18-day break for finals and the holidays coming up.
The break is over, the Gophers played two games in the Mariucci Classic last weekend and now it has almost been a month.
Still no Kangas.
After Friday's 9-0 rout of the under-18 U.S. team, Lucia said Kangas will try to practice again this coming week.
He has only participated in one practice since the "tweak" and only made it halfway through it, Lucia said.
If Kangas is still sore the next time he practices, Lucia said, he may need to have surgery. That "tweak" sounds a lot more alarming now.
Junior Kent Patterson has become the Gophers' top goalie this season. He had started 12 games, relieved Kangas twice. He has a 2.50 goals-against average and a .918 save percentage. His record is 7-3-3.
Even so, it's a bit scary to even think Kangas may be done for the season. He was the team MVP as a freshman when he set school records for goals-against average (1.98) and save percentage. He had a 2.61 gaa and a .911 save percentage last season. Solid numbers.
This season his gaa has climbed to 3.82, his save percentage has dropped to .892. And he is only 2-5-0. But the Gophers had to be hoping that the old Kangas would eventually emerge. At his best, he is a great puck-swallower.
Now that revival might not happen.
If Kangas has surgery on his what-you-might-call-it who knows when he might be able to play. Asked if the surgery would be season-ending, Lucia said, "We don't know yet. We are getting to that point where you know --. He has been through half a practice since Duluth [the UMD series] and that's it."
We know the Gophers have only seven WCHA series left, then the conference playoffs. Kangas tried to play last week when the team resumed practiced on Dec. 27 for the Mariucci Classic.
Junior Jake Kremer of Eden Prairie and Bismarck of the NAHL has been the Gophers' practice goalie for three seasons. He has never played in a real college game, only exhibitions. He was Patterson's backup in the Mariucci Classic and played 1-1/2 periods of the exhibition game.
But let's not be too hasty. Kangas will likely practice on Monday. Or try to. A lot more will be known after that.
"We are going to find out," Lucia said. "He has tried to come back and he was still sore. He is going to try it again this week. If he can't do it this week, he might end up having surgery. So we'll see."
Hopefully, Kangas will be better and get a chance to win some more games.
If not, Patterson probably will have to become a workhorse. And Kremer might actually get a chance to play in a college hockey game sometime before he graduates.