Gophers coach Don Lucia, those close to him say, is pretty astute when it comes to the PairWise ratings.
At this time of the season, those are the only important poll. The PairWise ratings, which compare teams in four statistical categories, mimic how the NCAA fills out its 16-team field for the national tournament.
The Gophers are No. 14 in the PairWise today. Almost on the bubble, but Lucia seems unruffled.
"It is so close with everybody right now," he said Wednesday during the Gophers weekly media day. "The system, we say it all the time, was meant to be looked at when the final game has been played. And there is a lot of hockey to be played. We all have six regular season games to go, we have playoffs to be had."
The Gophers play Bemidji State at home this weekend, then travel to Nebraska Omaha, and finish with another home series against Wisconsin.
"We are in a good position right now," Lucia said. "I like where we are in the league and even overall. We control our own destiny. ... As long as you win games, you don’t have to worry about it."
The Gophers next opponent is a hot Bemidji State team, coming off a sweep of Colorado College. "Everybody has tough games with them," Lucia said. "They have certainly one of the top goalies in the league [Dan Bakala]. They have very much a junior/senior team.
"They play pretty mistake-free hockey, and they make you beat them. They are not going to beat themselves. And that is why they are one of the most difficult teams to play in our league. We saw that last year. We had two great games with them [in Bemidji], both overtime games and I wouldn’t be surprised if that happened again this week."
BSU EXCITED FOR GOPHERS
Bemidji State coach Tom Serratore said his team is confident and excited going into the Gophers series.
"We have to adjust to the Olympic ice again," he said, "and the Gophers really know how to spread the rink out on that big sheet they have."
The rink at Mariucci Arena is 200 by 100 feet, of 15 feet wider than an NHL rink and most college rinks.
"But our guys are excited about it. It is always exciting playing the Minnesota Gophers."
The Beavers are 3-0-1 in their last four game and actually have been playing well since mid-November. "Our work ethic has been very good. We have been very tenacious. We have been strong on the puck and, when you are strong on the puck, there are going to be opportunities for offense. ... And they have converted.
"We are doing some good things right now and the guys are playing with confidence."
Especially playing well is senior goalie Dan Bakala.
"It is key that he plays this well at this time of the year," Serratore said. "It is crunch time right now. The stretch run. He stood tall [last] weekend. He was one of our best players and played like the vet he is."
Based on the past 20 or so WCHA seasons, team should not covet the MacNaughton Cup too much. It seems to be cursed.
The last team to win an outright regular-season WCHA title and go on to win the NCAA title in the Frozen Four was Wisconsin in 1990.
Since then, there have been two WCHA co-champions to win the big prize: North Dakota in 1997 and Denver in 2005.
Bottom line is that, in the 21 years since 1991, only three teams who won or shared the MacNaughton Cup celebrated a national title the same year.
THE DON SAYS
* On the one-game suspension to Kyle Rau for his hit on Denver's Jason Zucker: "Ultimately, we have to make sure we protect the players. And Kyle understands that and our whole team does. it is something we talk about and review after, whether it is a check from behind or a major penalty."
Lucia said Rau got a suspension for several reasons: "The lateness of the hit. The distance traveled. They felt the hands came up into the head and [Zucker] got launched into the boards. it wasn’t any one thing, but it was a combination of all four."
* On 4-3 overtime loss to Denver on Saturday: "I thought the guys played really well on Saturday night. That is why it becomes so disappointing. You are a minute and half away from having a good weekend and then we gave up the [tying] goal and gave up the overtime goal. So you go from having a good weekend, splitting at Denver, to not getting any points."
* On whether the team's stars need to play better in the stretch: "You need everybody to step up. Like any team, you need your goaltender to play well at this time of the year. You need your top-end guys to score on a regular basis and then you need your secondary scoring to come through."