The Gophers split with St. Cloud State in mid-November, losing 4-3 on the road, then winning 5-0 the next day at Mariucci Arena.

"We have points every weekend on the road" in WCHA play, Gophers coach Don Lucia said on Monday during his weekly radio show on 1500ESPN, "and we are 0-1 up in St. Cloud, so that is important point to try to do that."

In other words, he is hoping the Gophers either get a win or a tie in St. Cloud this time.

This weekend, the first game of their series is at Mariucci and the second game at the National Hockey Center. The Gophers are in first place in the WCHA with 24 points, St. Cloud State is tied for seventh with 17, but the Huskies are a tough opponent.

"Nobody in the league has swept St. Cloud, but they haven't swept anybody either," Lucia said. "They are just on that win one, lose one deal. But they have some good, skilled players. The strength of their team is their goaltending and their defensemen. They have a nice corps of defensemen, a good mix of size and skill.

"They can get around the rink very well. Hanowski and Festler, they probably lead the way up front offensively."

Junior forward Ben Hanowski has 12 goals and 15 assists for a team-high 27 points; former Little Falls teammate Jared Festler, a senior forward. has 11 goals and nine assists for 20 points. Freshman defenseman Andrew Prochno (4-16-20) is tied with Festler in points.

"Five on five they are a plus-team," Lucia said. "They have struggled a little bit at times on their power play. Part of that is when LeBlanc [captain Drew LeBlanc] got hurt earlier in the year and broke his leg. That has affected them a little bit up front because he was their quarterback on the power play more than anybody else they had.'

Lucia said they the Huskies played well against North Dakota in a split last weekend.

"It will be an up-and-down series," Lucia said. "Last time we played them we made some mistakes up there on our penalty kill. We got stretched out and we got seamed a couple of times. Our lack of execution on the penalty kill probably cost us the game on Friday night. It will be entertaining."


Lucia is happy with his six starting defenseman.

"We are not in a situation we are trying to hide a pair or hide a player," Lucia said. "They have all contributed, they have all played well."

He said on different nights, different pairs  play the best.

"[We] have balance with all three groupings," Lucia said. "They have a good mix of size, a good mix of skill and they seem to play pretty well together so we are not in a situation where we are just playing four guys like a lot of times you do against other people's top two lines.

"We are not concerned at all who is out with who with that back grouping. Now there might be a game where a guy struggles and you might try to limit his ice time. But going in, our intention is to play everybody pretty equally."

The Gophers three blue-line pairs:

The Big Boys

 Seth Helgeson     6-4, 213 jr.       3-7-10, plus-7 .... team high 24 penalties, 23 minors

Justin Holl              6-3, 196 so.     3-5-8, plus-10 .... got coaches'  trust early this season

The East-Siders ... Alt played at Cretin-Derham Hall, Marshall at Mahtomedi

Mark Alt                  6-3, 202  so.      4-12-18, plus-18 ... tied for team lead in plus/minus category

Ben Marshall        5-9, 178  fr.        2-6-8, plus-16 .... leads D-men with 55 shots on goal

The Odd Couple ... look at their scoring stats

 Nate Schmidt      5-11, 194 so.      2-24-26, plus-18 .... third on team in scoring, gets most of points on power play

Jake Parenteau   5-11, 196  so.      0-2-2, plus-7 .... has one penalty this season in 23 games


* On playing at the Natiohal Hockey Center: "It is a loud building and it is a fun place to play. The worst part of going up there is, you have to walk across the ice as a coach. Three times, when the period begins, you have to shuffle your way  and hope you don't fall on your rear end."

* On the Gophers' players who sit out: "To their credit, the guys that have not played on a regular basis have worked extremely hard. They have had a great attitude. They have practiced very well and very hard. And that has helped ... the guys who are playing when you keep pushing each other in practice."

* On Nico Sacchetti, who scored the game-winner Saturday in his eighth game as a senior; "Nico has kept himself in great shape. He was patient, waiting for an opportunity, and [I am] happy he got a chance to play Saturday and came through. And when you do that, you are going to get rewarded. More than likely he will be in our line-up this Friday night."

* On his message to his players on Monday: "The pressure is on to win games. We need to win games and continue to put ourselves in a good position. .. If we do our job, we don't have to worry about what anybody else does."