Benefits of strong start fuel Gophers into March

  • Article by: ROMAN AUGUSTOVIZ , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 28, 2012 - 11:28 PM

Coach Don Lucia said Frozen Four run is a reward for hard summer training.

Gophers hockey coach Don Lucia said Wednesday that his team's 9-1 start this season was really important to its success.

"It validated what they did this off summer, what they did in the month of September," Lucia said, referring to his players' offseason workouts. "When you get off to the good start, [you think] some of the things we are doing are paying off."

The Gophers, who are in the Frozen Four next week in Tampa, Fla., won their first six WCHA games, sweeping Minnesota Duluth and Alaska Anchorage on the road and North Dakota at home. They were either in first place in the conference standings or tied for the lead throughout the regular season.

"We needed a good start this year," Lucia said. "The past couple of years we got off to rotten starts [2-3 last season and 0-3-1 two seasons ago] and then you are playing catch up. It is like going to class. If you flunk your first test, you have to catch up the rest of the semester. If you get an 'A' on the first test it is a lot easier the rest of the way."

The Gophers (28-13-1) should get an 'A' for their finish this season as well. They are 9-2 in their past 11 games.

New line likely to stay

Taylor Matson, the Gophers' captain, said he enjoyed playing right wing on the third line in the West Regional this past weekend instead of center.

"I felt fresher throughout the whole game," Matson said. "I saved my energy on the wing and kind of waited for my opportunities. I like playing center, too. [But] wing is great. There are more breakaway opportunities and I can use my speed to my advantage."

Lucia juggled his third line to get Matson and left winger Nate Condon scoring again. Both had goals Sunday in the Gophers' 5-2 victory over North Dakota in the regional final. So did their center, freshman Travis Boyd, who moved up from the fourth line.

Matson expects the new line to stay together next week.

Close to sellout

A spokesperson for Tampa Bay & Co., the city's visitors and convention bureau, said the Frozen Four is expected to have an $11 million economic impact on the west-central Florida city. About 14,000 nights in hotel rooms have been or will be booked, the spokesman said.

The first Frozen Four in Florida is close to a sellout. As of Tuesday only 1,500 seats, all in the upper bowl in the Tampa Bay Times Forum, remained. The Forum is the home of the NHL's Tampa Bay Lightning and accommodates slightly more than 20,000, counting suites. A two-day ticket package is $195.

Back to work

The Gophers did not practice Monday or Tuesday.

"The couple days off was good mentally and physically to freshen them up a little bit," Lucia said. "This is an important week academically for school, just to try to get caught up and get ahead because they are going to be missing 3 1/2 days next week."

On Wednesday, the Gophers practiced on the smaller, NHL-size rink at Ridder Arena while Mariucci Arena was being set up for a robotics competition.

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