Gophers hockey striving to refocus

  • Article by: MICHAEL RUSSO , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 9, 2012 - 12:16 PM

Coach Don Lucia hopes his team gets off to better starts against Alaska Anchorage this weekend

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Mark Alt

Photo: Carlos Gonzalez, Star Tribune

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It's very early in this highly anticipated season and the Gophers men's hockey team is still 5-2 overall, meaning it's way too early to push the panic button.

But when you're a national championship hopeful, standards are higher than sitting .500 in the WCHA standings (2-2). And when you're coming off a split with Minnesota State Mankato in which you had to chase four deficits in two games, it's safe to say practices weren't easy this week.

"It wasn't that much fun," center Travis Boyd said before the Gophers hit the road late Thursday afternoon for a two-game weekend series at Alaska Anchorage. "I don't think the coaches were too happy with how we played on Saturday [in a 5-3 loss], so we had a little bit of a tougher practice on Monday just to show that we have to get better.

"It was kind of a little eye-opening for us."

Gophers coach Don Lucia gladly volunteered confirmation of Boyd's description, saying, "We've had a good, intense week of practice, I can tell you that, right from the get-go Monday."

On Sunday afternoon, Lucia watched video of Saturday's sloppy display. One night after having to rally from two deficits to eke out a one-goal victory, the Gophers fell behind 2-0 by the 9:54 mark of the opening period and were being outshot 17-5 in the first 15 minutes.

"The disappointing thing for me was just how we played in the first period on Saturday night," Lucia said. "You're playing catch-up on the scoreboard, and then you make some mistakes because you're doing that. ... We turned the puck over 14 times in the first 10 minutes of the game, we iced it three times."

When the Gophers struggle, usually it's because of their inability to manage the puck.

Brady Skjei was rusty last weekend after missing the previous weekend with an injury, and Mike Reilly committed some turnovers. Both are freshman defensemen. But Lucia quickly noted "a couple veterans haven't played as well this year as they would have liked."

Veteran defensemen Mark Alt and Seth Helgeson have been erratic. Captain Zach Budish has been inconsistent on both sides of the puck, and not only has Nick Bjugstad not been as dominant as the Gophers expected (six points in seven games), he has committed a few defensive lapses.

Before Dylan Margonari's winning goal Saturday, goalie Adam Wilcox and Helgeson had a miscommunication. and then when freshman Ryan Reilly went to assist, fellow forward Tom Serratore didn't cover Reilly's position. That left Margonari free to fly through the middle of the Gophers' end uncontested.

"There have been a couple situations where our forward is coming back and the D and the forward are playing the same guy," defenseman Nate Schmidt said. "It happened a couple times [last] weekend where they got opportunities where they're coming right down Broadway to shoot a puck."

Lucia plans a few adjustments for the Seawolves. Ben Marshall, one of the team's top defensemen the first two weeks, has played forward the past three games with forward Sam Warning hurt. Warning didn't make the trip to Alaska, even so Marshall will move back to the blue line with Serratore taking his spot as third-line left wing. The Gophers most likely will dress 11 forwards and seven defensemen, at least Friday.

"[We] found some stuff out about our team that we may or may not have known before [last weekend]," Schmidt said. "The [5-2] record may or may not always decipher how well we've been playing. We've been playing sporadic, very sporadic. We've had a couple periods where we've been good, and then even within the same game, it just seems like it's a complete 180. We've just got to find that consistency moving forward, especially this weekend with a team a like Alaska. If you're not consistent, they're going to come at you with waves of attack."

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