U hockey returns to No. 1 for first time since 2008

  • Article by: ROMAN AUGUSTOVIZ , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 8, 2011 - 7:28 AM

Don Lucia is keeping an even keel, since his team missed the NCAAs the last time it was No. 1.

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(center) Gopher Hockey Coach Don Lucia

Photo: Bruce Bisping, Star Tribune

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Coach Don Lucia called it "just a snapshot in time," but it's still a pretty picture for the Gophers men's hockey team.

For the first time in three years, players can say this: "We're No. 1."

The Gophers, who have missed the NCAA tournament each of the past three seasons, jumped from No. 5 to No. 1 on Monday in both major national hockey polls. They received 32 of a possible 50 votes in the United States College Hockey Online poll and 27 of a possible 34 votes in the USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine poll.

"We are 10 games into the season," Gophers coach Don Lucia said. "I look at it as a reward to the players for the work they put in and their accomplishments so far. But there is a good 65 to 70 percent of the season to play."

The Gophers swept North Dakota 2-0 and 3-2 at Mariucci Arena to improve to 9-1 overall. Second in both polls is Boston College (8-2), which dropped out of first after a 4-2 loss to Massachusetts over the weekend. Third is Colorado College (5-1), also falling a spot this week after a split with Nebraska Omaha.

"If I had a vote," Lucia said, "I'd vote for Merrimack [at No. 1]. They haven't lost yet."

Merrimack (7-0-1) of Hockey East is rated No. 4 by USA Today, No. 6 by uscho.com. But the Gophers -- already the fourth team to be ranked No. 1 this season -- have strong credentials, too. They have nine victories, more than any other Division I team. They are averaging an NCAA-best 4.80 goals per game and giving up only 1.60 goals, the third fewest.

Goalie Kent Patterson has a program record-tying five shutouts already and the Gophers, counting one overtime, have scored at least one goal in 28 of 31 periods.

The last time the Gophers were No. 1 in the polls was in late November 2008, when they opened the season 8-0-3. But in the first weekend after they reached the top, they lost their second game at Denver 4-0 and the next weekend they lost to Michigan 6-3 and tied Michigan State 4-4. That slide ended their two weeks at No. 1.

In December 2008, Lucia got sick with a disease eventually diagnosed as sarcoidosis, an autoimmune disease in which clusters of cells form in the body's organs. He missed four games, and the Gophers tumbled to fifth in the WCHA race by the end of the season. They missed the NCAA tournament that year as well as the next two.

That 2008-09 season underscores why Lucia is taking everything in stride. "We have been fortunate to win our close games and stay healthy," Lucia said. "But the college hockey season is a roller-coaster. We'll get to our adversity at some point. A lot of things can still happen. We have yet to see some of the top teams."

  • GOPHERS MEN'S HOCKEY Up next: at Wisconsin • 7 p.m. Fri., FSN • 7:30 p.m. Sat., BTN

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