Stellar month is gratifying to Gophers' Lucia

  • Article by: DAN LIEN , Special to the Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 31, 2011 - 12:08 PM

The head coach credits hard work for the squad's prolific goal production and success of its special teams.


Gophers men's hockey coach Don Lucia

Photo: Bruce Bisping, Star Tribune file

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ANCHORAGE, ALASKA - Don Lucia paused, just briefly, to contemplate. He reminded those around -- and perhaps himself -- that it is only October.

But what an October it has been.

Lucia's Gophers (7-1) had just wrapped up a two-game sweep at Alaska Anchorage, giving them four consecutive road victories in the WCHA.

Essentially, the Gophers are one bad second period against Vermont away from a flawless first month of the season.

The Gophers sport the nation's most potent power play. The penalty kill unit clicks at better than 90 percent, and it scored two shorthanded goals Saturday night. And they average more than five goals a game while possessing the nation's leading scorer in Erik Haula (seven goals, 10 assists).

"I like our work ethic. I can say that," Lucia said. "In the month of September when we got on the ice a couple of hours a week with them, their attitude was really good. They wanted to work each day. They wanted to try and get better. I didn't know where we were going to be, but I knew having Kent [Patterson] could cover up some defensive mistakes.

"Did I anticipate that we would score as much as we have and the power play would have that kind of chemistry? No."

The Gophers won 5-0 in Friday's opener, Patterson's fourth shutout in seven games. Saturday, Patterson was equally sharp in a 3-1 victory. He turned aside 48 of 49 shots over the weekend at Sullivan Arena.

"We are playing better for him as a team," Haula said after his two-goal, one-assist game on Friday. "He's a great goaltender. He does it every night. It's not luck. He always gives us a chance to win the game."

Alaska Anchorage coach Dave Shyiak implored his team to stay out of the penalty box over the weekend to improve the Seawolves' chances of avoiding the Gophers' top-ranked power play.

His team took only three penalties in each game. It wasn't good enough. The Gophers scored twice on the power play Friday before going 0-for-3 Saturday.

The line of Nick Bjugstad, Zach Budish and Kyle Rau has been dominant. The trio racked up 10 points over the weekend.

"We've got some experienced guys, minus Rau," Bjugstad said of Budish, himself and their true freshman winger. "And I don't really think he even needs the experience. We work well together."

Lucia said his power-play units are solid for a simple reason.

"We've got really good players on the ice. That's what it is all about," he said. "We have so many different weapons out there. ... We have a lot of assets on the power play."

Patterson got to enjoy watching teammates dominate for those two-minute man advantages this weekend. He agreed this edition of the Gophers power play is special.

"For the number of years that I have been here I think it is one of the better power plays that I've seen on our team," Patterson said. "Guys are moving around. We're getting shots off. We're seeing guys make a big screen in front."

That team chemistry is reflected in the number of goal scorers. In Alaska, seven players scored the eight goals. And on the season only four regular players have yet to score a goal.


A postgame review of Minnesota's second goal Friday gave the goal to Bjugstad instead of Jake Hansen. It was Bjugstad's sixth goal of the season. Officials also gave Rau an assist on the Gophers' fourth goal.


    Up next: 7 p.m. Friday, 7:30 p.m. Saturday vs. North Dakota • Mariucci Arena • TV: FSN Friday, BTN Saturday

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