The Gophers men’s hockey team doesn’t need the Western Collegiate Hockey Association to keep its in-state dominance. Through five nonconference meetings with former WCHA members and in-state rivals, the Gophers are perfect.
They can complete a trio of sweeps against Minnesota opponents on Sunday when Minnesota Duluth returns to Mariucci Arena.
Completing this run in their first year outside of the WCHA is important to the Gophers. They kicked off the in-state rivalries with a sweep at Bemidji State in mid-October. Last weekend, they swept Minnesota State Mankato. OnFriday, they cruised past UMD 6-1.
“The Minnesota rivalries are huge for us. We want to be the best team in Minnesota,” Gophers senior forward Tom Serratore said. “We were 4-0 coming into [Friday night], and that is something we take pride in at the U.”
Pride led to a combined 16 penalties in Friday night’s series opener with Minnesota Duluth. The two teams chirped at one another throughout the night and spent a combined 32 minutes in the penalty box.
UMD coach Scott Sandelin thought the rivalry maintained its steam despite both teams’ departure from the old WCHA.
“It didn’t seem any different to me,” Sandelin said. “It’s always a good challenge to come down here and beat them. I’d like to get them in our building a couple times. Maybe we can work on that.”
There was discussion that Saturday’s rescheduled game could have been moved to Duluth. Another option was to bump the series to Thursday-Friday at Mariucci Arena. No more changes were made, though, and the Bulldogs traveled back to Duluth on Friday night and will return early Sunday.
Gophers coach Don Lucia said UMD had the option to stay in Minneapolis but decided to travel home.
Heading into the season, Lucia reminded his team about the importance of in-state rivalries. Each meeting holds extra significance now that the five Minnesota-based Division I men’s hockey programs are in three conferences.
The inaugural North Star College Cup will help maintain these rivalries. The two-day tournament in late January at the Xcel Energy Center, however, will only allow one-game matchups and will exclude one team each year. The Gophers will complete their schedule of in-state rivals in the first round of the tournament against St. Cloud State on Jan. 24.
The Gophers are No. 1 in the latest national polls, the Huskies No. 2.
“We want to have success in our state,” Lucia said. “Right now we’re 5-0 in those games and that’s important to us.”
Jason Gonzalez • 612-673-4494