Roman Augustoviz spends Minnesota's winters covering college hockey, specifically the Gophers, and other University of Minnesota sports. During the summer, he writes about the WNBA's Minnesota Lynx, with a dose of U sports sprinkled in. Follow him on Twitter @RomanStrib.

E-mail Roman

Gophers will probably keep two of four lines the same on Friday

Posted by: Roman Augustoviz under Gophers, Men's hockey Updated: December 29, 2011 - 7:28 AM

After a 20-day layoff from games, the Gophers play Niagara at 7 p.m. Friday in the second game of the Mariucci Classic. Northeastern faces Princeton in an earlier game that day.

"We have a pretty balanced field," Lucia said. "Niagara hasn't lost in six games [3-0-3]. You look up [their statistics], they have been outshooting just about everyone they have played, including when they went up to Michigan earlier in the year and lost. They would like to play an up-tempo game. It should be an entertaining game for the fans.

"They have been successful in their league over the years. They have been to NCAA tournaments. And they look to have a good team again this year."

The Gophers, of course, will be short-handed.  Forwards Nick Bjugstad and Kyle Rau, linemates on the first line who have 16 and 12 goals, respectively, are gone. They are playing on the U.S. team in the World Junior Championships.

Lucia said he would like to keep his lines together as much as he can. So the Gophers' second and third lines will be familiar to regulars at Mariucci this season.

Erik Haula will center Jake Hansen and Sam Warning on the second line. Taylor Marson will center Seth Ambroz and Nate Condon on the third line.

"It's just a two-game set," Lucia said, "and then we come back with Bjugey and Kyle and we can put them back together again.

"We have been experimenting every day with what the other two lines are going to look like. We have changed it every day and we are changing it [Wednesday] and probably settle a little more what we want to do for Friday [on Thursday]."

Here are two possibilities:

Fourth line

Tom Serratore-Travis Boyd-Nick Larson ... These three have played 12 games together.

Makeshift line

Joey Miller-Christian Isackson-Zach Budish ... Miller scored first goal in last Gophers' game -- the first time he has played this season; Isackson is a freshman who has played only five games; Budish usually plays on first line.

"Some new guys are going to be on the power play," Lucia said. "Some new guys will be killing penalties because obviously  Kyle and Nick played very important roles on our [specialty] teams. It is an opportunity for other people to get a little more time and try to muscle their way into the lineup.

"That last game against Mich Tech, I felt we needed a little more energy in our lineup. I thought we were a little stale. And I inserted four new guys in our lineup. And all four of them played with energy and brought something to the table And that is what we looked for and we need the same this weekend."

The new players in the lineup on Dec. 10 in a 6-2 victory over Michigan Tech were Miller, Isackson and Nico Sacchetti, all forwards, and defenseman Blake Thompson.

"The couple weeks off is a good mental break," Lucia said. "It is a good physical break and now they will be ready to go. There will be a little rustiness when you get back into your first game action, but hopefully that will play itself out quickly."

WATCHING U.S.

Lucia said he has tried to watch the World Junior Championships in Alberta. "It is fun to watch, especially when you have guys playing," he said.

Bjugstad missed the U.S. team's three exhibition games with an injury from the Gophers' last WCHA game.

"I had talked to Dean [U.S. coach Dean Blais] the week before they had met out there [for a pre-tournament camp]. ... Our trainer was in contact with their trainer. We didn't want to have a situation where it [Bjugstad's injury] could potentially get worse."

Neither Bjugstad nor USA Hockey has said specifically what his injury is, but it has been widely reported he injured one of his shoulders in the Gophers' second Michigan Tech game.

"The plan all along -- we felt [the injury] was a two-week deal," Lucia said. "Everybody knew he was going to be on the team, so there was no point in playing him in those exhibition games, They are not going to do anything to joeparadize him. And we talked before he left about the importance of our team and our season as well."

Also easing Lucia's mind is the presence of one of his staff members at the WJC. "Mark Bahr is there, too, keeping an eye on things," Lucia said. "[Bjugstad] is in good hands."

Bahr,  the Gophers' director of hockey operations, is the video coordinator for the U.S. team.

 BAD MEMORIES OF A GOOD NIGHT

The last time the Gophers won the Mariucci Classic was in 2009. They beat Norheastern, also in this year's field, 3-2 in overtime.

Lucia, battling what was then a mystery disease, was not on the bench that night.

"I was sicker than a dog and I was up in the press box." Lucia said. "And when it was going into overtime, I said, 'If you don't win this early I am going home' because I was feeling not very good.

"Luckily [the Gophers] scored early in overtime and won. ... It was an an overtime power play. It was a controversial call. They flipped the puck out of the rink. That's up to the referee whether it should be called or not and they called a penalty."

Patrick White scored the winning goal, 1:38 into the 20-minute extra session. [Regular-season overtimes are only five minutes.]

 PLAYERS READY

"It's a game week," sophomore defenseman Mark Alt of the Gophers said. "We were just skating and practicing and now it is getting back to the mindset, 'We are playing on Friday.' Mentally, we have to be sharp and on edge."

He said the Gophers will miss their two top scorers,  Bjugstad an Rau. "But it gives an opportunity for guys to step up and play who might not normally," Alt said.

Winning the next three games, all nonconfence, is important, lt said. "It is just like starting the season. You want to start out strong and, for the second half of the season, it is a big deal."

Hansen, a senior forward who came back a little trimmer, said the grind of the college hockey starts again this weekend.

"The first half, we were pretty used to it," he said. "We were in shape. Everyone was excited to play. Then toward the end, you are practicing every day. Some guys might get a little burned out and stuff.

"But being three weeks gone, everyone is itching to play. I know the break for me -- [and]  just talking to some of the guys -- it was too long. All you want to do is play some games. Having a nice full week off, but having three weeks off like that, it kind of takes a toll on you. Guys were working out and  skating. Mentally, guys are just ready to play. They have the itch to come back and get into it right away."

Hansen said Monday, the first day of practice, was rough. "The legs were burning. It is kind of tough to stay in skating shape no matter what you do, whether you are biking or running or doing olliptical," he said.

 Hansen came back seven pounds lighter, he said, after spending the holidays with his family. He said he ate less than he normally does when at school.

ADVERTISEMENT

Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT