Gophers coach Don Lucia started his Blue Line speech last week reviewing the last month of the season.
On Denver's series sweep at Mariucci: "Heading into that weekend, if you would have told me we were going to get shut out two nights in a row, I wouldn't have believed it. But that happened."
Pioneers goalie Marc Cheverie got both shutouts in that series by identical 3-0 scores. Last weekend he beat North Dakota twice, once by a 1-0 score. It was his fourth shutout of the season. He's got unreal numbers and is the WCHA's Defensive Player of the Week this week.
Lucia said in the last month the team has also had a broken jaw, a blown up knee, a little bit of everything.
Freshman Nick Leddy had the broken jaw and is skating with the team. Lucia said he has his fingers crossed, hoping Leddy can be back for the home and home series with Minnesota State Mankato on Dec. 4-5. His doctors will make the final decision.
"The blows to the head have become a big issue," Lucia said. "You look at the number of concussions now. The Wild's Bouchard hasn't played since last spring because of his concussion. It is something that we have to take seriously and look at. Right now in college we do have a rule that says zero tolerance for blows to the head. And even though, the kid from Anchorage when he went to hit Nick, it was not necessarily his intention to hurt him or obviously to break his jaw or anything like that.
"But the bottom line is, it was a blow to the head with the shoulder. And it doesn't matter whether you or in a vulnerable position or not, that's something we want to eliminate. It has been re-emphasized as far as the NCAA is concerned because it is a safety issue."
[The NCAA sent out a memo about hits to the head 10 days ago and on Wednesday, the WCHA is holding a teleconference call with WCHA coaches explaining the re-emphasis on hits to the head. An earlier post had comments from commish Bruce McLeod.]
"You will see it continue to be cracked down [on], Respect has to be there for the players," Lucia said. "Even if somebody is in a vulnerable position, you can't follow through with that blow to the head for safety issues."
MORE FROM THE DON
* On Jay Barriball's season-ending knee injury: "As disappointed as we are not to have him this year, we are certainly looking forward to having him back again next year."
" On how Gophers need to play: "We have some good players. We have some young players that will continue to get better and grow. But the bottom line for this team to be successful is that we have to play with grit. We have to be willing to block shots. We have to do the little things that are required for this team to win on a consistent basis." He added that consistency has been lacking so far this season.
* On defenseman Sam Lofquist leaving team for the Ontario Hockey League: "I wasn't really surprised to be honest. It is something that he has toyed with since he was back in Ann Arbor [playing for the U.S. national development team]. Going to their training camp. He talked about possibly leaving his summer. And then, again, was not surprised at all when Monday he came in after he did not play the Saturday game in Wisconsin that he elected to go to the Ontario Hockey League. Hopefully, it will work out for him. If that is what he chooses to do. At the same time, I am a big believer -- we want to make sure we have guys that want to be here, that want to play for the University of Minnesota and have the University of Minnesota first and foremost in their interests. And I think we have a group of guys who feel that way."
* On team's scoring woes: "So many guys have struggled offensively. We had a bunch of guys score their first goals of the year [against Wisconsin]. And I am hoping that is going to relax some guys and prove to be a little bit of a catalyst as we move forward."
* On goalie Alex Kangas before UMD series: "Alex has established himself as our No. 1 goaltender. We felt that way since the year began. We talked about when the year started that we wanted to try to get everybody [in] even though we did not have any nonconference games early this season. Get everybody a look, give everybody an opportunity to play. You look at his [Alex's] numbers, they are terrific."
* On forward Jacob Cepis, ineligible until January, being forced to play a defenseman in practice: "Our forwards like going against him because he is about 5-7."
* On the future of the College Showcase, the annual games matching two WCHA teams (Minnesota and Wisconsin) vs. two CCHA teams (Michigan, Michigan State): "It is interesting to see what happens with the showcase after this year. We are not really sure. We know they are going to come back. We will do it one more year with Michigan and Michigan State next year but then moving forward, we will wait what is going to happens with that."
* Lucia on team's slow start: "This is not a short-term 50-yard dash, it's a long-term. This team is going to grow. It is going to get better. The biggest thing we have to do is get healthy and get to that second half of the season. We can have a great second half."
BIG TEN CONFERENCE UPDATE
A WCHA insider says the Big Ten school pushing for a Big Ten Conference in men's hockey this summer was not Ohio State, as I speculated in a previous blog, but Wisconsin.
"If another Big Ten school added hockey, I think there would be serious discussion" of a Big Ten Conference, Lucia said, but now there are only five Big Ten teams.
* Another correction from a previous blog. The three teams the Gophers will play four times next season are Wisconsin, the team designated as their rival (so they always play four games), Minnesota Duluth and Michigan Tech. In a previous post I wrote North Dakota instead of UMD. My bad. But I listened to the tape and The Don clearly said UMD. I mistakently heard and wrote down UND.
* The Gophers will play only six nonconference games in 2010-11 instead of eight. Minnesota got to play two extra this season because they are playing at Alaska Anchorage this season. Those games don't count toward the maximum of 34 allowable. ... Next season Minnesota will open the season with a nonconference series against UMass of Hockey East, play two other nonconference games in the Holiday Dodge Classic, the Gophers' holiday tournament,.
In January, the Gophers will have the first and third weekends open. So the U scheduled one game against U.S. national development team that first weekend. "Just so we can keep playing," Lucia said.