Jake Hansen, an assistant Gophers captain, is as bewildered as anyone about the Gophers' inconsistent play since mid-November.
“For some reason, Friday nights has been a major problem for us," said Hansen after a goal and an assist on Friday in the Gophers' 2-1 victory over St. Cloud State.
The Gophers are now 2-5 in their last seven conference games on Fridays. They are 9-0 in WCHA games on Saturdays.
"Saturday nights we have no issue," Hansen said. "We come out, we play strong, we play fast, we play physical.
“And even [this Friday], we didn’t play our best game but all that matters is we got the 'W' and hopefully [Saturday] we can play even better and get the sweep."
The Gophers' win, coupled with Minnesota Duluth's 4-4 tie with Michigan Tech, gave the Twin Cities-based maroon and gold a three-point lead over the second place Bulldogs in the conference race.
Maybe that's why Hansen reveled in this latest win so much.
“It’s huge, you look at our senior class," Hansen said. "We haven’t had much success here."
The last three seasons, the Gophers have finished fifth, seventh and fifth in the WCHA.
"It has been a while since we have been in the race for a WCHA title," Hansen said. "And we knew [Friday], we’ve got to win. We’ve got to start sweeping. Duluth has been very consistent with that. We still have to figure out how to change something so we play better on Friday nights."
GUENTZEL REVITALIZED 'D'
The Gophers have played three consecutive games which ended with 2-1 scores, winning the last two.
Hansen credits much of the the improvement on defense to the return of Mike Guentzel, the team's associate head coach. He is in charge of the defenseman.
“You can’t doubt that with [Guentzel] coming back, he has definitely made a huge impact on the defense," Hansen said. "The guy knows what he is doing. He is aggressive, he is very intimidating where you know you better do your job or he is going to rip you or you are going to sit."
The Gophers are holding opponents to 2.02 goals per game -- fourth best in the nation -- while averaging 3.75 goals -- the second most nationally.
“[Guentzel] has done a huge job with getting our 'D' to understand they have to play their roles and know their roles," Hansen said.
SHORT-HANDED HUSKIES TIRED?
The Gophers held the Huskies to one shot in the third period -- a season low for an opponent.
“They might have got a little tired at the end," Gophers coach Don Lucia said. "Their power plays the last couple" minutes could not muster even one shot.
SCSU started the game with 11 healthy forwards and lost another of their best, Travis Novak, early in the third period. He suffered either a right ankle or right foot injury when he got tangled up with the Gophers' Nick Bjugstad near the boards at mid-ice.
"Another guy got hurt [for St. Cloud State]," Lucia said. "They had to double shift some guys. Maybe at the end of the third period, they didn’t just have enough energy on their power play to execute. But our guys did a good job.
“It wasn’t a game that was up and down, it was more of a cautious-played game, but we found a way to win,” Lucia said. “Like I told our guys, it doesn’t matter how you win, just getting a big two points.”
The Gophers outshot the Huskies 26-13 and blocked 13 of SCSU's shots.
“We had better defensive flow than offensive flow," Lucia said. "Kent looked sharp. We didn’t come cleanly up the rink a lot. We turned a lot of pucks over. That took some rhythm away from us offensively. But we did enough to win.”
Kent Patterson needed to make only 12 saves, but several were acrobatic.