Clearly, Gophers coach Don Lucia wants to make defense the cornerstone of this team's stretch run.
"We always had guys back," he said Monday on his weekly radio show, referring to the Gophers' 3-0 and 4-1 sweep of Bemidji State this past weekend.
"That has been our foundation all year. We are not a real high scoring team. We have been an efficient team offensively. You saw that this [past] weekend. The [Nick] Bjugstad line carried the mail on Friday and [Erik] Haula's line carried the mail on Saturday.
"But our foundation has to be our team defense and our specialty teams. We got pretty good performances out of all of those areas this weekend. .. We are at our best when we get the balanced scoring. We need that. We need Taylor [Matson]'s line to chip in a little bit now."
Matson, the team captain, centers the third line.
"We need all the lines and when we get that, that's when we are a hard team to handle," Lucia said. "Like anybody we can't rely on a couple of guys to score night in and night out."
* Actually, Lucia may say the Gophers are not a high-scoring team, but everything is relative. And this season, the Gophers are No. 2 nationally in scoring, averaging 3.67 goals per game. So 56 teams are scoring fewer goals per game. Only UMD is scoring more, 3.72 goals per game.
In the WCHA, the Gophers are fourth in scoring, averaging 3.29 goals per game. UMD is first at 3.75.
After the Gophers gave up two power-play goal in the third period at Denver earlier this month, Lucia said the coaches talked to the players about the importance of limiting power plays.
Against Bemidji State, the Gophers had no penalties on Friday and only two on Saturday. The Beavers scored on their first power play chance, which followed Bjugstad's two-minute minor for checking from behind.
"Not having to kill any [power plays] on Friday saves your energy," Lucia said. "And you don't have to use some of your key guys in those situations which means they can play more minutes in an offensive role. Even the same on Saturday. We just took two penalties all weekend long.
"That's what we have to do. No more stick penalties. No more inadvertent trips. No more hooks. No slashes. You are going to take a couple here and there, but we have to do everything we can to be as disciplined as we possibly can. You get to this time of the year and the end of March, I've said many times, one bad penalty can end your season."
THE WCHA RACE
"At the end of this weekend, we could easily be in third place," said Lucia, whose team has been in first or tied for first with UMD all season long. "It is just the way it is. It is week to week. Our guys shouldn't feel comfortable. We said it all [year], our guys play better when they are not comfortable.
"We have a two-point lead on Duluth, we have a four-point lead on Denver, but in one weekend that all could turn around. The top half of the league is all playing each other this weekend.Teams are continue to beat each other. I would be shocked if anybody went 4-0 here the rest of the season."
* On the PairWise ratings: "That is really the only poll that matters in where you are in that ranking. Obviously, we have done a good job within the league. Some of those non-league losses hurt us in the overall standings. But we control our own destiny.
"If we have a good finish here, and win some games, we will be safely in the [NCAA] tournament. But the other way around, if you stumble at the end, then you can fall in a hurry [in the PairWise], too. You see teams based on a weekend, move up or down a half dozen spots.
"It is going to be a ferocious playoff fight for a number of teams trying to get themselves in [the 16-team NCAA tournament]."
The four players most likely to commit a penalty:
Seth Helgeson, 27 for 62 minutes
Jake Hansen, 22 for 44 minutes ... all minors
Seth Ambroz , 17 for 45 minutes
Mark Alt, 14 for 39 minutes
Zach Budish 11 for 33 minutes
The four players least likely to commit a penalty:
Jake Parenteau, one for 2 minutes
Nate Condon, five for 10 minutes
Nate Schmidt and Sam Warning, six for 12
The Gophers are second in WCHA games in penalty minutes with 14.9 per game; Nebraska Omaha is seventh with 13.6. ... Nationally, the Gophers are No. 17 with 14.3 penalty minutes per game.
THE DON SAYS
* On UNO: "I know there staff well enough. They are going to be all geared up. They will have good crowds here at the end of the season. They have a chance to move up too based on what they can do at home over the next couple of weeks."
Lucia keeps saying lately how tight all the conference races are across the country. Here's a look at them:
WCHA: The Gophers lead UMD by two points, Denver by four points with four games left. It's a three-team race.
Atlantic Hockey: This has the closest conference race. Air Force leads Rochester Institute of Technology by one point, 34 to 33, but three teams, Bentley, Mercyhurst and Niagara, have 32 points. Holy Cross is in sixth with 31 points, only three points out, but realistically isn't going to climb over five teams. So this is a five-team race with two games left.
Key series this weekend:
Air Force at Robert Morris
RIT at Niagara
Bentley at Holy Cross
CCHA: Ferris State has a six-point lead, 53 to 47, over Michigan and has won the regular season title.Third place Western Michigan is another two points back. Only one weekend left in conference play.
Key series this weekend:
Ferris State at Western Michigan
ECAC: Two-team race. Union has 30 points, Cornell 28. Third-place Colgate is far back at 23. Two games are left in conference schedule.
Key games this weekend:
Union at Cornell on Friday.
Union at Colgate on Saturday.
Hockey East: Four teams at the top are within three points. Boston College has 31 points, UMass-Lowell 30, Boston University 29 and Maine 28. Two weekends of regular-season play are left.
None of contenders play this weekend or next.
BYE-BYE TO KELLY
Paul Kelly has resigned as the executive director of College Hockey, Inc.
“The HCA would like to thank Paul for his service to CHI and wish him the best in
his future endeavors,” said Steve Hagwell, president of the Hockey Commissioners Association.
The HCA, made up of the five commissioners from NCAA Men’s Division I college
hockey, anticipates there will be discussions to chart a different course for the position.
I met Kelly at the Frozen Four last season. He was an approachable fellow. I also heard him on radio once talking about College Hockey, Inc. He was a high-profile first executive director for CHI, given his backgroud. He was former president of the NHL players association.
The HCA said it might hire an interim person to replace Kelly.
College Hockey, Inc. is a non-profi corporation that operates under the auspices of the HCA and
serves as the educational, promotional and marketing arm of college hockey.
Kelly was always making trips to Canada, talking about expanding hockey on the West Coast and elsewhere and trying to educate people about NCAA hockey.
The five commissioners are: Bob DeGregorio, Atlantic Hockey; Fred Pletsch, CCHA; Steve Hagwell, ECAC Hockey; Joe Bertagna, Hockey East and Bruce McLeod, WCHA.