Gophers coach Don Lucia said he enjoyed watching the U.S. team beat Finland 3-2 in overtime on Sunday in the World Junior Championships in Buffalo. Two Gophers freshmen play center in that game, Nick Bjugstad for the Americans and Erik Haula for the Finns.

"Watching Erik and Nick facing off numerous times, it could have been [our] practice the way they played," Lucia said, "and I thought they played well."

Bjugstad had the game-winning goal, Haula had an assist.

"Hopefully both of them will have great tournaments individually and their teams will have a lot of success as well," Lucia said.

"We are going to miss them" in the Mariucci Classic, said Lucia, whose Gophers play Union on Friday and Ferris State on Saturday, "but the good thing is we do get a chance to maneuver some guys around a little bit. There is a good chance we might play 11 forwards [he probably meant 13] and seven D this weekend.

"Some other guys are going to get an opportunity on the power play. They are going to get an opportunity on some specialty team play. And we are going to need some guys to step up this weekend."

 * Haula scored his first goal of the World Juniors on Wednesday as the Finns beat Germany 5-1. He had the fifth goal and tied for the team lead in shots with six. He was a plus-1 for the game.

* Lucia likes how Haula practices: "He has a high skill level, but the way he competes every day to get better, that has really impressed me from Day one. Every day he comes out and really works. That’s why he is as successful a player as he is."

* Lucia said he is happy Bjugstad is playing center for the U.S. team. "That’s going to give us an option to move him back to center when he returns," Lucia said. "Because that is his more natural position. What we tried to do when he came back from mono was to protect him [by moving him to right wing] and make the game a little less responsible in our own zone for him. So now, playing against this elite level competition, that should put him back in a position to probably move back to center when he returns."


The NHL will have its Winter Classic on Saturday. Washington will play outdoors at Pittsburgh. Which leads to the question, what’s up with the Gophers’ outdoor game?

 "The higher ups have to make that final call," Lucia said. "I have been kind of pushing them a little bit. ... In this state it would be great. With this football stadium [the TCF Bank Stadium], I think it’s a natural so hopefully the finances work themselves out. It is a very expensive proposition and that is the big hurdle, what the financials are on a game like that."


 * On mood of his players: "[It’s] good. They don’t have school to worry about now. It is always a stressful time when you get through final exams. It has been a long layoff. We had two complete weeks off without any practice. And it will be three complete weeks before they play a game [on Friday vs. Union]. So we were a little rusty when we got back on Monday but every day the team, their hands and feet are getting better every day."

 * On format change for Mariucci Classic, going to predetermined opponents: "We changed it this year because Bemidji {State] being in the WCHA. When the field was set up, we didn’t know they would be in the league this year. We want to try to play as many nonconference opponents as we possibly can. All four teams are fine with [the change]. It’s predetermined we will play Union and Ferris [State] and, as it turns out, they are two quality opponents. And both are going to present real challenges for our team this weekend."

* On meaning of two tournament games this weekend: "It’s really important. We are 3-1 nonconference. We are playing two quality opponents. It is only going to help our strength of schedule. And so if we can win this weekend it will be very valuable come the end of the year."

 * On facing Union’s power play, the nation’s best at 34 percent: "We need to be aggressive. We have been too passive at times. Like the second game against UMD we were a little more aggressive and on our toes. We have some guys who can skate. We will try to be a little bit more aggressive the second half of the year. You can’t be crazy but, at the same time, you have to be anticipating and be ready to jump."

 * On Ferris State’s defense, which is giving up an NCAA-low 2.00 goals per game: "Their goaltender is very good. And they are an older, veteran team. And they are committed to that. They are going to win by winning the game 2-1. They don’t feel they are in a position to win games 5-4. And I’ve talked to some other coaches [about the Bulldogs]. They said you better score in transition because they are so good in their own zone."

 * On sophomore defenseman Seth Helgeson: "Seth has grown a lot. He is using his body better. He is more confident. He is more physical. He has gone from being [part of] a third set, playing against other people’s third and fourth lines last year to be thrown into a position where he is playing against other people’s best players. He has had some games where he has struggled at times, but he still is only a sophomore."