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.
Gophers coach Don Lucia said facilities are just as important in hockey as they are in other sports, citing Denver and Boston University as proof. Both schools won national titles, he said on his weekly radio show on Monday, after new arenas were built.
"The Kohl Center certainly helped Wisconsin's program," Lucia said. "Now they are building a new practice facility and women's hockey arena that is attached to the Kohl Center. They are going to have that to be able to practice in when the basketball teams play.
"Kids want to see what you have. And they are going to compare it from one school to the next. You want to be able to have kids come in and look through your arena and have a little bit of that of that 'wow' factor.
"Mariucci was built in 1993, it was probably the top facility in college hockey [then]."
About 12 new facilities or more have been build since that time, Lucia said, suggesting Mariucci, approaching its 20th birthday, isn't the best arena anymore. Just last Saturday, Lucia went to a game at Notre Dame's new arena.
"Kids go on a recruiting visit, and you know what, facilities are extremely important," Lucia said. "Let's face it, for a lot of the kids, [the facility] is probably more important than anything you will see academically on the visit. The sport they play in, for them at that age, is the biggest reason why they are going to go to a school."
Asked about his wish list for Mariucci, Lucia suggested these improvements:
* renovate the downstairs for the players
* upgrade the weightroom
* modernize the coaches' offices ... "I think we have the same carpet in our offices from 1993 when Mariucci opened"
* replace the scoreboard with "an HD scoreboard that we can do so many things in-game to make it better for our fans, to show replays and hype up the crowd a little bit. That is a really must thing"
* improve the sound system ... "so you can hear a little bit better"
"So there is definitely things we can use, like every sport could use," Lucia said. "Hopefully, we can reinvest especially with the upcoming time when we are going do priority seating within the arena to make more money.
"I think the fans would have less complaints about [priority seating] if they know it [the additional money] was being re-invested in the hockey program."
DU MAYBE WCHA'S BEST TEAM
Lucia said the Denver Pioneers, the team his Gophers play this weekend, may have the most talent in the league.
"[But] they have been hit by a lot of injuries this year," Lucia said. "Their goaltender [Sam] Brittain got hurt in the last game last year. [He] had an absolutely phenomenal freshman season, had knee surgery, now he is back playing.
"He has played the previous two weekends, the front game of the series. At some point, he is going to take over and be playing every night, whether that is this weekend or another week or two down the line, remains to be seen."
Brittain is 1-1-0 with a 2.02 goals-against average and a .923 save percentage.
"They have had some other players out with injuries," Lucia said. "They are getting as healthy as they have been in a while.
"I am not sure of Beau Bennett's status, if he is back. Makowski, one of their defensemen, he has been hurt, he is close to getting back. They got Ryder back last weekend for the first time."
Bennett, a sophomore forward who was a first-round draft pick of Pittsburgh in 2010, had wrist surgery on Dec. 9 and was supposed to be out six to eight weeks. It will be nine weeks since his surgery this Friday.
Makowski is one of DU's top blue line players. Ryder, another defenseman, was out with a knee injury.
"But I like their team," Lucia said. "They are deep, they are talented, they can skate, they are very good in their own arena. And so it will be a great test for us to see if we can continue to have success on the road and get points on the road because that is going to be critical."
Denver is 9-4-2 at home this season, 6-5-2 away.
"We are up by six" points over fourth-place Denver in the WCHA race, Lucia said. "If we can get some points this weekend and keep that distance that would be great for us."
Lucia said Denver's program has been strong the last decade or so partly because of Magness Arena, which opened for the 1999-2000 season.
"Coincided with that new facility, they won a couple of national titles," Lucia said. "And they have great history, great tradition at Denver University. It is a nice, small school sitting in Denver, Colorado. They have had a great pipeline over the years to western Canada and some non-traditional areas as well.
"They have been able to tap the California market, the St. Louis market. They get the odd Minnesota kid here and there. They do a good job of recruiting and they have been very stable with their staff over a number of years. But that new facility, more than anything else really jump-started them over the past 10 years."
DU is 15-9-4 overall this season, 10-6-4 in the WCHA. The Pioneers were on a five-game winning streak until a loss and a tie with archrival Colorado College last weekend. They are 8-2 in their past 10 games with the Gophers.
* On Denver defenseman Joey LaLeggia, who has 10 goals and 19 assists for 29 points to lead all NCAA freshman in scoring: "He had a great year last year out at Penticton [of the BCHL]. He had about 80 points last year. He is very good on the power play. He is a very offensive defenseman.
"[Gophers recruit] Michael Reilly is playing at Penticton and putting up the same numbers. So I think you will see him come in and be a similar-type player for us" next season.
Reilly is also a defenseman for Penticton, a team with eight Minnesotans including his two older brothers, forwards Connor and Ryan, also Gophers recruits coming in next season. The Reillys have helped the Vees have an incredible season so far. They will try to win their 30th consecutive game -- which would break a BCHL record -- on Tuesday at Chilliwack.
* On DU forward Jason Zucker, the Wild prospect: "He is the type of kid that draws fans out of their seats. Because of his speed, No. 1. He can really go. He is probably as fast a player as there is in college hockey. He can shoot it. He has a very hard shot. He is very competitive. He has played three years on the [U.S.] World Junior team. He made it as a 17-year-old, that shows his talent level. He is a very dynamic player."
* On Denver's power play: "[It] leads our league and they put their top-end guys out there."
Denver forward Luke Salazar is the WCHA's offensive player of the week. He had a goal and five assists as the Pioneers swept Alaska Anchorage 4-2 and 6-3.
Salazar, a 5-7, 155 senior winger, had a goal and two assists in the first game and three assists in the second for Denver, which moved up to third place in the WCHA standings with the sweep.
He has six goals and 12 assists this season.
The Gophers play at DU in two weeks.
TECH DUO HONORED
Goalie Josh Robinson of Michigan Tech is the defensive player of the week. He stopped 62 of 66 shots as the Huskies tied UMD 4-4 and beat them 5-0. He shut out the Bulldogs the last five periods of the weekend and had a .939 save percentage.
Saturday's shutout was the first against UMD in 105, dating back to a 2-0 loss to visiting North Dakota on March 1, 2008. Robinson, a senior, is 11-9-2 with a 2.69 goals-against average and a .912 save percentage.
The rookie of the week in the WCHA is Tech forward Blake Pietila. He had an assist on Friday against UMD and a goal and two assists on Saturday.
Denver, one of the preseason WCHA favorites, is getting on a roll.
The visiting Pioneers beat Alaska Anchorage 4-2 on Friday for their fourth win in a row. Senior Luke Salazar had one goal and two assists for Denver. Anchorage native Adam Murray stopped 30 shots.
After a week off next weekend, the Gophers play at Denver in what looks more and more like a huge series.
Ty Loney and brothers Nick Shore and Drew Shore had the other goals for DU. Defenseman Joey LaLeggia had two assists.
“We certainly didn’t make it easy for Adam tonight,” DU head coach George Gwozdecky. “Anchorage really drove the net hard and I thought Adam was outstanding. Our top two lines created a lot of offense and it was nice to see Nick Shore and Luke Salazar score goals.”
Matt Bailey and Eric Scheid scored for Alaska Anchorage, which has lost sixth in a row. Rob Gunderson made 22 saves in the loss.
Denver, which was outshot 32-26, went 1-for-4 on the power play and 3-for-3 on the penalty kill.
The Anchorage Daily News story is here.
Denver beat Bemidji State 3-2 as Wild prospect Jason Zucker had two goals and an assist for the Pioneers. Teammate Joey LaLeggia had three assists.
But DU lost another player during the game to injury, forward Zac Larraza was hurt when checked from behind in the opening period. He may have suffered a concussion.
Five Denever players were already injured:
* goalie Sam Brittain
* forward Beau Bennett
* defenseman Dave Makowski
* defenseman John Ryder
* forward Drew Shore
The Pioneers started the game with five defensemen because of injuries and, when Scott Mayfield got a five-minute major for checking from behind and a game misconduct near the end of the first period, played the final two periods with only four.
"We had a real test and that's as good a team win as we've had all year long," DU coach George Gwozdecky said. "Certainly it's great to have Jason Zucker back. He scored two big goals and I am as excited about the effort we got [Saturday], considering the situation, as I have been in a long, long time."
Zucker, who had been gone playing the World Junior Championships, has 13 goals and 16 assists now.
Ben Kinne and Brady Wacker scored the two goals for BSU.
The Gophers play at Denver on Feb. 10-11 and face Bemidji State at Mariucci on Feb. 17-18.
GOPHERS CLIMB IN BOTH POLLS
The Gophers impressed voters apparently with their split at North Dakota this past weekend. They moved up in both major polls.
In the USA Today/USA Magazine poll, the Gophers jumped three spots to No. 2. UMD got all 34 first-place votes and reamined No. 1. Boston University and Boston College are Nos. 3 and 4, respectively.
In the USCHO.com poll, the Gophers moved up just one spot to No. 4.
The top three teams there are: 1. Minnesota Duluth -- the Bulldogs received all 50 first-place votes, 2. Boston University -- up from sixth, and 3. Boston College.
Only three other WCHA teams are in the ratings, and none are in the top 10: Colorado College, which plays the Gophers at Mariucci this weekend, is No. 11, Denver is No. 15 and North Dakota is No. 17.
OUTDOOR GAME UPDATE
Gophers coach Don Lucia said Saturday that Wisconsin has talked to him about playing an outdoor game next season and he is interested.
The Gophers-Badgers game would be part of a college doubleheader, according to several reports, at Soldier Field, home of the Chicago Bears. Miami and Notre Dame would play a CCHA game the same day.
“In order to make this work, we’d have to play Thursday night at the Kohl Center and give both teams [the Gophers and the Badgers] a chance to practice in Chicago,” said Mike Cerniglia, the assistant to Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez, according to a uscho.com story.
Cerniglia helped coordinate the Camp Randall outdoor game in 2010 between Wisconsin and Michigan.
Behind Juho Olkinuora in the nets at Denver there is only hope right now.
Junior Zack Hope, a walk-on who was a regular DU student until this season and a member of the club team in rugby.
But Olkinuora, a freshman from Finland, is doing pretty well as an unexpected regular. Last weekend he beat Princeton 3-0 and lost to surging Miami 4-2, giving up only two even-strength goals. He is DU's goalie for now.
Sophomore Sam Brittain, the team's top goalie last season, had knee surgery on June 17. DU coach George Gwozdecky said Tuesday on his radio show that Brittain should start skating in mid-December.
Adam Murray was expected to be the main goalie until Brittain's return, but he suffered a groin injury on Nov. 19 in a 3-3 tie with Nebraska Omaha in Denver. He won't be back until late January.
"We're fortunate to have a quality goaltender like Olkinuora," Gwozdecky said. "He competes like crazy. ... He wants to play and he has shown he can play."
Olkinuora is 1-2-2 with a 1.91 goals-against average and a .933 save percentage. Murray is 5-2-1 with a 3.40 gaa and a .902 save pct. He was named the WCHA's rookie player of the week on Tuesday.
The Pioneers, rated No. 10 in the national polls, are 6-4-3 overall, 4-2-3 WCHA, with a big game against No. 8 Colorado College, their top rival, on Friday at Colorado Springs World Arena.
"The Tigers are really good at home," Gwozdecky said. "It is going to be loud. It is going to be obnoxious from sections of their fans."
It is going to be on national TV. CBS Sports Netrwork is broadcasting a rivals double-header on Friday. Boston College and Boston University will play in the first game, CC and DU in the second.
DU and CC were supposed to have an open date on Friday, but agreed to play one game for TV. Gwozdecky called it a chance to showcase the university and his hockey program nationally. The two teams have played once, on Nov. 12. Denver won that game 5-4 at Magness Arena.
He is worried a bit about some of his players adjusting to the bigger sheet of ice at World Arena, which is 15 feet wider than the 200x85 rink at Magness Arena. The shape of the corners is much more square, too, at CC, Gwozdecky said..
Gwozdecky said he expects a physical, emotional, intense game -- "a battle for every square inch of the ice" -- as CC and DU battle for the Gold Pan Trophy.
* The Gophers play at Denver on Feb. 10-11.
* Gwozdecky coached in his 1,000th game on Saturday versus Miami. His record over 26 seasons is 554-367-79.
* Sophomore Jason Zucker, a Wild draftee, is DU's second leading scorer with six goals and 11 assists for 17 points.
DU BETTER IN LOSS
Gwozdecky said the Pioneers were very mediocre in the win over Princeton and turned the puck over a lot. He said his team played much, much better against Miami. "We faced a golatender who was incredible," Gwozdecky said. "There was no shame in the loss."
The RedHawks were the nation's preseason No. 1 team, started slow, but have won eight in a row.
* DU has moved its practices from the afternoon to the morning this week because the players are on a break from classes until January. "The next five, six weeks, they are living the live of pro hockey players," Gwozdecky said. ... Well, maybe not exactly. ... On Wednesday, the Pioneers are bonding by holding their annual bowling tournament.
* Gwozdecky was on the air for 30 minutes Tuesday on 102.3 The Ticket. The Pioneers' web site has a link to the live audio.
The 12 arenas in the WCHA have six Olympic-size rinks and six smaller NHL-size rinks. Here is a breakdown:
Alaska Anchorage, Sullivan Arena
Colorado College, World Arena
Minnesota, Mariucci Arena
Minnesota State, Verizon Wireless Center
St. Cloud State, National Hockey Center
Wisconsin, Kohl Center (just a bit smaller at 200x97)
Bemidji State, Sanford Center
Denver, Magness Arena
Michigan Tech, MacInnes Student Ice Arena
Minnesota Duluth, Amsoil Arena
North Dakota, Ralph Engelstad Arena
Nebraska Omaha, Qwest Center
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