Gophers coach Don Lucia said Monday on his weekly radio show on WCCO that he would have preferred his team had played last weekend. Instead, Minnesota was idle while every other WCHA team played, There were five WCHA series and Colorado College played Alabama-Huntsville in a nonconference series.
"I really would have liked to kept playing at this point in time," Lucia said. "We had a good weekend up in Grand Forks [splitting with North Dakota on Jan. 14-15]. We were relatively healthy coming out of it. It would have been nice to keep playing and maybe have an off week sometime in early to mid-February. Maybe a couple of weeks before the playoffs begin if you have some bumps and bruises, the guys would have a chance to rest up."
So which WCHA teams still have a weekend off coming up?
Alaska Anchorage? Nope. The Seawolves have only 10 WCHA games left, but on Feb. 25-26 they play Alaska Fairbanks in a nonconference series for the Governor's Cup.
Bemidji State? Yes, they are off this coming weekend. ... Beavers finish with at North Dakota and then host Gophers on last weekend of regular season.
Colorado College? Nope. ... CC, tied for sixth with Gophers still has to play four of top five teams. North Dakota, Denver home and home, UMD and at Wisconsin.
Denver? Yes, they are off this coming weekend. First-place Pioneers have Michigan Tech and St. Cloud State at home in two of last three series.
Michigan Tech? Nope.
Minnesota Duluth? Yes, they are off this coming weekend so the Bulldogs will be well-rested for Gophers on Feb. 4-5 at Amsoil Arena.
Minnesota State? Finally found one team with a February weekend off. Mavericks are off Feb. 25-26, then play Alaska Anchorage at home March 4-5 before first round of WCHA playoffs. Best remaining bye.
Nebraska Omaha? Nope. Mavericks have non-conference series with Alabama-Huntsville this weekend.
North Dakota? Yes. Sioux off first weekend in February. Nice. Finish season at Michigan Tech, team with one WCHA win so far. Also nice.
St. Cloud State? Huskies have toughest WCHA schedule starting in February. They play Minnesota State at National Hockey Center this weekend, then play at Nebraska Omaha, at UMD, return home for series against North Dakota and Wisconin and then play at Denver. Huskies could be spoiler in WCHA race.
Wisconsin? Yes. Badgers, like Sioux, also have first weekend off in February.
So four of 12 WCHA teams have a bye week in February.
"What we are going to have to do now," Lucia said, "since we don't have another weekend off the rest of the season, is make sure we gauge our guys and how they are physically and mentally and maybe give them an extra day off on a Tuesday. Or maybe on a Monday just let them play shinny hockey and let them just have some fun.
"And that's what we tried to do in the off-week is make them compete. We played a lot of small, competitive games where the losers had to skate or we had a scrimmage on Saturday morning. It became very competitive because the losers had to take their skates off and run around Mariucci Arena with all their equipment on up and down the stairs. So they had something to play for.
"Aaron [Ness] chose a team and Hoff [Mike Hoeffel] chose a team and it came down to a shootout at the end."
Wow, it's tempting to offer a joke here, remembering how the third-place game in the Mariucci Classic ended without a shootout. But it would be toooo easy.
MORE FROM THE DON
* On state of the Gophers: "Early in the season we were scoring goals but giving up too many. But now, as we have moved on in the season, we have become a much better defensive team but we have not scored more than three goals in a game since mid-November. We've got to score a few more goals if we want to make another step as a hockey team."
Seven times in their first 11 games, the Gophers scored four or more goals. The high was nine on Oct. 30 in the Gophers' 9-4 victory at Colorado College. The last time the Gophers broke the three-goal barrier was Nov. 19-20 at Michigan Tech when they swept the Huskies 6-4, 4-1.
In the past 10 games, the Gophers have scored three goals three times, two goals five times, and one goal twice. That works out to an an average of -- need my fingers for a second to count -- to an average of 2.1 goals per game.
* On recent practices: "One of the things we are working on is to try to get our guys -- when they have ice, take that ice to the net. Don't play on the perimeter, we've got to get to the net. We've got to shoot more. And be around that net for rebounds."
* On lack of consistent scoring: "We've had some guys who got off to good starts, but they have been kind of dry lately. We have to have those guys pick up and play offense again."
Who is dry?
Erik Haula has no goals, one assist the past six games.
Nate Condon has one assist the past seven games.
Taylor Matson has one point, an assist, the past nine games.
And so on ...
* On Alaska Anchorage: "They are a good defensive team. They are big, they are strong. They don't give you much. They only average about 24, 25 shots against. So you have to convert on your chances because you are not going to get many."
* On loss of Alex Kangas to season-ending hip surgery: "The burden all falls on Kent [Patterson] right now. So we have to make sure he stays fresh, too."
* On adding Alex Fons, a 2010 graduate of Hopkins as a third goalie: "[He] had a good high school career at Hopkins. He played on some of the select teams out of Minnesota. We knew he was a good kid, he worked hard and he just wanted a chance. So it has worked out well.
"He started practicing last week. He was a little nervous the first few days, but he felt more and more comfortable as it has gone on. It allows us to have three goalies for practice and it gives Kent some breathers during the course of the week. And in the second half, if we want to give Kent a day off, we will still have two goalies for practice. So it is a win-win for everybody."
The other goalie, of course, is junior Jake Kremer, the team's practice goalie for 2-1/2 seasons and now Patterson's backup.