Veteran Gophers coach Don Lucia is looking forward to this weekend.
His team, rated No. 1 in the nation, and leading the WCHA plays at St. Cloud State on Friday, then returns home to play the Huskies on Saturday at Mariucci Arena.
"We know that when we go to St. Cloud, the place is going to be packed and the students are excited," Lucia said. "I am sure they will have a little high-fuel octane in their system when we get there. But that is what makes it fun. It is a good atmosphere. It is a good rivalry."
And as of late Wednesday afternoon, there were still tickets available for Friday's game at the National Hockey Center.
"And for our guys, our freshmen, sophomores, haven't played there so it will be a new experience," Lucia said. "But we have been in Duluth this year, we have been in Wisconsin, so they have had a taste of it " WCHA road games, he meant.
Last season the two teams split a series at Mariucci Arena. SCSU won the first game 5-2. The Gophers switched goalies the second game and, with Kent Patterson in the nets, won 2-1.
"[Our players] would all say they kind of laid an egg on Friday" at Wisconsin, Lucia said, referring to a 3-1 loss last Friday. "[We] just did not have a lot. And Wisconsin outplayed us and deserved to win the game. It just reinforces that if you are not mentally and physically engaged to play, you don't give yourself a chance to win.
"Even Saturday, we were engaged and mentally and physically ready to play and it still was a tight game going into the third. [The score was tied 1-1 after two periods.] So it just reinforces that you have to be dialed in to give yourself a chance to win. It doesn't guarantee you are going to win, but it gives you a chance."
AXE HELPED SPARK GOPHERS
In the middle of the third period, with the Gophers ahead 2-1, a handful of Wisconsin football players brought Paul Bunyan's Axe into Kohl Center. They had arrived back at Madison after routing the Gophers in football at TCF Bank Stadium and showed off the trophy they kept by winning.
"It was good timing, It ticked off a number of guys, especially our assistant coach who is not real fond of the red down at the end of the bench," Lucia said. "I got one who doesn't like the green too much [Grant Potulny] and the other doesn't like the red [Mike Guentzel], so it is good for our rivals. So [Guentzel] barked a little bit on the bench.
"[The Badgers] had the right to do that. I would expect we would do that. Hopefully we can get that axe next year and bring it home and parade it around our rink. I thought it was good timing. And it fired up our guys a little bit, so it was good."
A few minutes after the axe's grand entrance -- the crowd of 13,000 plus at the Kohl Center cheered wildly -- sophomore Nick Bjugstad of the Gophers scored an unassisted goal to make the score 3-1. Then later Nate Condon had another unassisted goal for the final 4-1 margin.
HOME AND HOME GREAT
Lucia said he likes having a home and home series with St. Cloud State. This is the first of two. The second will be Jan. 20 an 21 when the first game will be played at Mariucci, the second game at the National Hockey Center.
"The only pain is juding traffic on Friday," he said. "Is it going to take us two hours. to get up there or an hour and 15 [minutes]? That's the part that is hard and it is a 7:30 start rather than a 7. ... [So] we will get back a little later.
"When you are 65, 70- miles away, it is the right thing to do, a home and home. It is good on both sides. Instead of having a two-game set at home, we will get them once here [now] and once in January."
When the Gophers play the Huskies, Lucia faces coach Bob Motzko, his former assistant coach.
"I was asked before, 'Do you enjoy beating a friend?' And the answer is, 'No. You rally don't.' And I know how hard he works and we talk on a weekly basis. Our famiiees have shared a lot of good times and, obviously, he was a big part of our run here when we won our titles and he has done an outstanding job."
Motzko was on Lucia's staff from 2001-05 and during that time the Gophers won NCAA titles in 2002 and '03.
"I am hapy that [Bob] is there," Lucia said, referring to St. Cloud State. "I am happy that he had the opportunity to become a head coach. He has done a great job and he will continue to do a great job. We just don't want him to do a great job this weekend."
Motzko has a 125-97-31 record with the Huskies since the 2006-06 season. His teams are 81-69-24 in WCHA games, 8-9-3 against the Gophers. SIx of those losses were in the 2008-09 season when the Gophers swept two home-and-home series in the regular season and a first-round WCHA playoff series with the Huskies.