Gophers coach Don Lucia said his team started in a hole, going 0-3 in its first three WCHA games.

"[But] the guys have kept working, the guys have kept improving, getting better," Lucia said. "We can't take a deep breath yet. Our goal is to make sure we are home ice.

"We would [be] if the season ended today. But it hasn't ended. There is a lot more work to be done."

The Gophers play Michigan Tech this weekend at Mariucci Arena, then visit Bemidji State and their new arena next weekend to conclude the regular season.

So how do the coaches focus the players on last-place Tech? "It's easy, they just went out and beat the fourth-ranked team in the country in their rink last weekend," Lucia said, referring to the Huskes' 3-2 victory at Denver on Friday of last week.

"There is so little difference between teams in hockey. It is kind of one goal, two goals from night to night. It is proven, in the depth of our league, that anybody can beat anybody else."

Even Tech, which broke a 26-game winless streak (0-23-3) last weekend, then lost 5-1 to the Pioneers the next night.

"I don't know if we are playing our best hockey, but we are getting some rewards," Lucia said. "They are scoring some goals. You go back a month or two, we were playing pretty much playing the same way [but] only a few pucks go in."

Now more shots are going in, Lucia said, and it appears the team is playing better because it is winning games by a few goals.. 

 "Defensively, we have played well. I liked the way we killed penalties this weekend, which was a big improvement and that has to continue. For us, it is a fine line. We are a good team, we are not a great team.

"We have shown that we can beat anybody, but also that anybody can beat us."

"When you look at our roster, it seems like it is a senior, freshmen dominated team. And you can't rely on freshmen game in and game out, you need your older guys to step up and our older guys have stepped up. Especially recently. Our freshmen are playing good hockey right now but our seniors are playing the best they have played this year,"

THE DON SAYS

* On senior captain Jay Barriball: "Jay will not play this weekend. But there is a good chance he could play the following weekend against Bemidji.  The worst of it is behind him right now. It looks like he will get back in our lineup before the season ends, which is good news for us."

Barriball has missed the last four games with a lower-body injury believed to be a knee.

* On Mike Hoeffel's four goals against Michigan Tech in the first series this season: "Hopefully he can do it again this weekend. He had a good weekend. Our team played well up there [in Houghton, Mich.] that weekend. We have been pretty good on a small rink all season long."

* On home series this weekend: "We are playing better at home than what we were, certainly earlier in the season. We just have to continue to defend well. That is the most important thing. Not so much this weekend -- how much we score -- but we've got to do a good job defensively. And keep our goals-against down this weekend."

* On senior weekend, is it emotional: "it is for the seniors and the parents, especially. In many ways it is always a sad day, maybe as much for the parents as anything else because they have been part of this program over the previous four seasons. They have had a lot of fun with each other. The goal this weekend and in the last couple weeks is to make sure that there is another home weekend down the line and this isn't it."

* On the PairWise ratings: "This is the time of the year if you can put a little streak together, you can certainly move up." The Gophers are No. 18 in those ratings, which mimic how the NCAA fills out its tournament. The U has to move up at least four places to be assured of an at-large bid if they don't win the Final Five. The winner of the WCHA tournament automatically makes hockey's "big dance."

* On line changes: "We have shortened our bench a little bit. Maybe with some of the injuries and not having Jay, maybe we have become a little better team skating more three lines rather than four. 

"Some of it the last two weekends, is the teams we have played. They pretty much skates three lines, too. Some of that dictated [what we did], too."

Lucia said the Gophers might go to 3-1/2 lines now.

* On .500 record: "Our record against the top and the bottom [teams] is pretty much the same. ... [Our players] are not going to take anybody lightly. They understand the importance of the games. We also understand that for this group, we have to play our best just to give ourselves a chance to win. And, if we don't, we won't win."