Michael Russo has covered the National Hockey League since 1995. He has covered the Minnesota Wild for the Star Tribune since 2005, after 10 years of covering the Florida Panthers for the Sun-Sentinel. He uses “Russo’s Rants” to feed a wide-ranging hockey-centric discussion with readers, and can be heard weekly on KFAN (100.3 FM) radio and seen weekly on Fox Sports North.

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Gophers' Bjugstad sick, Wilcox excelling

Posted by: Michael Russo under Gophers Updated: November 21, 2012 - 3:46 PM

The 7-2-2 Gophers hit the skies for a charter flight to Burlington on Thanksgiving morning for Friday and Saturday games against the University of Vermont (2-4-2). It’s the Gophers’ first trip to Burlington in program history, and because it’s a non-conference game, the entire team is allowed to take the trip.

 
That will not include Sam Warning, who will miss his eighth and ninth games with an upper body injury, and goalie Michael Shibrowski, who got hurt in practice last week and is now out until after Christmas. Warning has been practicing sparingly and is a possibility for next weekend’s series against Nebraska-Omaha.
 
If he cannot play, coach Don Lucia has indicated that he may, too, be shut down until after Christmas. That would mean he would also miss the series at Colorado College.
 
Nick Bjugstad has the flu, Lucia said. He didn’t practice Tuesday or Wednesday, but he is expected to be on the flight Thursday and be quarantined to his own room in Burlington. Lucia said he may have to monitor Bjugstad’s ice time depending on his health and energy.
 
The Gophers get into Vermont Thursday afternoon, but because it’s their first trip there, Lucia wants to test out the ice and the wooden barn during a 4 p.m. skate. Then the Gophers will have a Thanksgiving meal together.
 
I am writing a profile on goalie Adam Wilcox for Friday. As lively as the freshman is on the ice, he’s equally as gregarious during an interview. Some fun stuff in Friday’s story, so please check that out.
 
Wilcox (6-1-2) ranks first in the WCHA and sixth in the nation with a 1.55 goals against average. His .778 winning percentage ranks ninth in the country and third in the WCHA. His .924 save percentage ranks third in the conference, and the Gophers have the WCHA’s best defense (tied for fourth in the NCAA) by allowing 1.91 goals a game. They also have the WCHA’s best power play and penalty kill.
 
With Shibrowski out and Ryan Coyne the lone backup, the Gophers are being more cautious in practice with Wilcox, Lucia said. That’s understandable since they’re now a goalie injury away from having to email the student body to see who knows how to tend goal.
 
Some Don Lucia quotes:
 
On future schedule? “We have a four-year deal with Northeastern and Boston College [starting next year], so it’s something I want to continue to do – at least every year get out to the east coast. Right now, we’ll have our 20 Big Ten games, our eight in-state games – that’s 28, we’ll have our tournament, that’s 30, so that’ll leave us four games a year. Right now we’re locked in with Notre Dame, B.C. and Northeastern, and when that drops off, we’ll get North Dakota back on when Notre Dame drops off. When B.C. drops off, that’ll free up another opportunity to go at East to play somebody every other year back and forth. The plan is to try to get out to the east coast every other year.”
 
On goalie situation and Shibrowski being out: “That’s forced us to look at how we practice. We’re so used to having three goalies and not worrying about the pace and how many shots a goalie’s getting because of having that third guy. But now with only two and knowing that Adam has to play every game, we have to make sure we do a good job of not wearing him out Monday through Thursday so he’s tired on Friday and Saturday.”
 
On success of 13 for 52 power play: “Start with personnel, but one of the key ingredients on a power play is you have to have offensive defensemen. If you don’t have a guy back there that can quarterback it or shoot it, it just makes it hard. I think we have five guys on both units who can make a play, and what’s helped us this year is our second unit is a lot stronger than last year.”
 
5-on-5? “Hockey in general, that’s kind of the trend. It’s hard to score 5-on-5. People get in shot lanes, it’s so difficult to get pucks through. You go back 20 years ago, guys would go out of their way not to get hit with a puck. Now it’s just an expectation. … It’s something we’re working on. We worked on it hard this week in practice. If we’re going to take another step as a team, we need to score another goal a game 5-on-5.”

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