Jason Gonzalez has covered an array of sports at all levels over the last nine years. He learned ice hockey, however, long before — during the 2002 Winter Olympic Games in Salt Lake City, Utah (his hometown). He got a close up look of legendary Gophers alum Herb Brooks and other Minnesota hockey greats. Jason has been with the Star Tribune since 2012.
Time off the ice will go a long way for the Gophers’ bumps and bruises.
“The week break is going to be great for us,” Gophers forward Nate Condon said. “A lot of bumps and bruises. A lot of defensemen have been hurt this season. Any time you get time off it’s great for guys to heal up and hopefully be ready to make a big push for the end of the season.”
That includes Condon. He went hard into the boards on Friday night and left for the locker room before returning.
The break will also allow the Gophers to return to full strength. Injured freshman defenseman Michael Brodzinski is expected to return for the Penn State series in two weeks. He’s been out since the matchup against brother Jonny Brodzinski and St. Cloud State on Jan. 24.
It’s the Gophers’ first bye week since Nov. 1-2.
Coach Don Lucia said the focus this week will be school. The team can practice every day, if necessary, but won’t. He’ll give the Gophers extra days off in hope of a fresh, healthy group returning for practice a week from Monday.
Condon said the team isn’t worried about losing momentum after the sweep of Michigan. Heath is more important at this point in the season.
• Team USA’s shootout victory over Russia on Saturday morning offered a teaching moment for the Gophers.
The coaching staff pointed out several late blocks by defenseman Ryan McDonagh (St. Paul native) and forward Ryan Kesler. That’s the will to win Lucia wants from his players.
“What great talent on the ice and the will to win when you see McDonagh and Kesler taking missiles and blocking shots. That doesn’t feel good,” Lucia said. “We talked to our guys about that. That’s 9.7 million blocked shots between those two, so if they can do it, we can do it.”
Despite the shootout excitement provided by Warroad native T.J. Oshie, Lucia still isn’t a fan of it in college hockey. He still found it in him to celebrate Oshie, though he is North Dakota alum.
• Michigan coach Red Berenson said the Gophers are as good as team they’ve seen this year. He’ll get two more looks at the Gophers during the final stretch of the regular season. The Gophers travel to Ann Arbor, Mich., March 14-15, the last weekend of Big Ten play.
• Gophers senior captain Nate Condon had the honor of being part of Friday’s ceremonial drop of the puck with legendary John Mayasich. Condon said Mayasich didn’t say much at center ice, but what he did say might have led to the Gophers’ success this weekend.
“I think he said he wanted us to get our scoring back, so hopefully it was his touch that put us over the top,” Condon said. “Obviously he has enough points.”