Alaska Anchorage is the Gophers' next opponent. They play the Seawolves at 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
Gophers coach Don Lucia said the good thing now is that travel there is not as ardous as it used to be. The team has a direct flight to Anchorage.
"The old days, you had to go through Seattle," Lucia said Monday on his weekly radio show on 1500ESPN.
He said the Gophers will skate Thursday morning at 7:45 a.m., take a 11:30 a.m. flight to Anchorage and arrive there at 2:30 p.m.
Lucia said the hardest part is not the travel but the time change. "I am going to wake up probably 4:30, 5 in the morning because I am used to getting up at 6:30 our time and you don't automatically change your [body] clock," Lucia said. "The good thing is, kids have a tendency they can sleep until noon. So hopefully they can get on the clock rather quickly."
He said the Gophers have followed the same routine in recent years in going to Alaska and have played pretty well there. "A lot of times when you got up there, it seems you have more energy one night than the other," Lucia said. "And there is no rhymn or reason. Sometimes it could be Friday. Sometimes it could be Saturday"
Lucia called the Seawolves a much improved team. St. Cloud State coach Bob Motzko, whose Huskies played UAA in a preseason tournament, told Lucia this Alaska Anchorage team is the best he has seen.
Last season UAA was 3-1-0 against the Gophers even though all four games were at Mariucci. The scores:
Jan. 28, Gophers 5, Alaska Anchorage 1
Jan. 29, Alaska Anchorage 1,. Gophers 0
March 11, Alaska Anchorage 4, Gophers 3
March 12, Alaska Anchorage 2, Gophers 0
"It is not about owing [them something back]," Lucia said. "It is about being able to understand you have to play patient. For instance, that Saturday game we lost [in the playoffs], I believe it was 0-0 going into the third period."
He said he told his players at the time to stay patient, that it might be 0-0 going into overtime.
"We had a player that got impatient, got caught up the rink and there went a breakaway pass behind him and 1-0. And the same thing happened [with] the same player, 2-0, game over."
He said patience is the key again playing UAA. "They have good size," Lucia said. "They always have three guys back. They play a left wing lock and a 1-1-3 in the neutral zone. So you are not going to get odd-man rushes. You are going to have to try to grind out a 2-1, 3-2 type of game because it is not going to be high-scoring and you are not going to get a lot of shots on goals. You are probably going to get in the mid-20s shots, and that's it."
Lucia said the Seawolves have a veteran team and are not playing many freshmen. "We are going to have to play smart, we are going to have to play gritty, we are going to have to be good on our specialty teams in order to win up there," Lucia said. "... We have to bring some guys that will play with some grit and can win some battle because there is not going to be a lot of space."
WCHA SWEEPS ABOUND
Lucia said he has been surprised by all the early sweeps in the WCHA.
"We know how difficult it is to win two games in a row in our league," Lucia said. "And usually you do see a lot of splits. In the early going, that has been the biggest surprise so far. What you see is there is going to be pretty good balance. I don't think there is going to be that much difference from team to team.
"It looks like a real competitive league again. And that is what we expected at the beginning of the year."
There have been seven WCHA series played so far and every one has been a sweep. The home team has swept six of the series. The one exception is the Gophers' sweep at UMD.
Gophers sweep Minnesota Duluth
Michigan Tech sweeps Wisconsin
Colorado College sweeps Bemidji State
Wisconsin sweeps North Dakota
Nebraska Omaha sweeps Alaska Anchorage
Bemidji State sweeps Michigan Tech
Denver sweeps Minnesota State
On his three-year contract extension: "I am appreciative to Joel [AD Joel Maturi] because there are probably some people that didn't want that to happen. I really think we are in good shape right now. The program is going in a real positive direction. I know physically I feel the best I have felt in three, four years right now."
On taking bad penalties ... Lucia said he talked with one of the guility players who came out of junior hockey: "Part of that is the mentality of juniors. You have to show your toughness. We talked about when is the right time and when is the wrong time [to be tough]. He feels bad and it is a great learning thing for him."