A media member with a comical bent suggested to Don Lucia that the solution to the Gophers' string of Friday night losses might be to schedule Saturday-Sunday series.
The Don did not laugh. "I don’t look at it as we have a big problem as much as we have played some tough road games," said Lucia, in his 13th year as the Gophers head coach. "If you look at the big picture of where we are at, we are in really good shape."
The Gophers are 11-4-1 overall -- they are the nation's only team with 11 victories although a number of top teams like Merrimack (10 games, 9-0-1) and Colorado College (11 games, 7-4-0) have played far fewer games. The Gophers also are in first place in the WCHA standings -- by one point over Minnesota Duluth and two points over Nebraska Omaha.
"We have got out to some bad starts on Friday on the road," Lucia said.
He's right there. The Gophers trailed Wisconsin 3-0 at the Kohl Center until scoring a consolation goal in the last two minutes.
They were down 4-1 to St. Cloud State at the National Hockey Center before rallying for two goals in the second half of the third period.
They were down 2-0 to Michigan State last Friday and lost 4-3.
"Maybe you can overcome that [multiple-goal deficits] at home," Lucia said, " but when you are playing good quality opponents on the road, it just makes it that much more difficult."
The Gophers have a string of seven home games through early January starting with a series this weekend with lowly Minnesota State Mankato, tied for 11th place in the WCHA. Of course, the Mavericks are 5-1 in their last six meetings with the Gophers.
INJURIES PLAGUE MAVS
"When you look at their year, you can sum it up by injuries," Lucia said, referring to the Mavericks' struggles. "I don’t know who they have and who they don’t have, but it is awfully difficult at any level when you are playing without half a dozen players you expect to have in your line-up.
"We went through that last November and it is no fun. They have some good freshman that are obviously playing very well for them. But more than anything else, they are waiting to get their guys back."
Lucia said he worried about the Gophers' blue line corps before the start of this season. Not anymore.
"I am really happy with where they are at," he said. "That was a big question mark coming into the season. We had lost three players who played regularly last year."
That would be seniors Cade Fairchild, who made his NHL debut with the St. Louis Blues on Tuesday, and Kevin Wehrs and junior Aaron Ness, who left school early to sign a pro contract.
Among the D-men back were sophomores Jake Parenteau and Nate Schmidt. "[They were] two guys who played off and on [as freshmen], but did not have much experience," Lucia said, "and we had to count on those guys this year.
"Our three sets [of defensemen] are pretty balanced," Lucia said. "At this time we don’t have a superstar back there, but we have a good solid corps of six."
That's all you need unless someone gets hurt or ill.
"Probably. the one area [to clean up] was rush defense," Lucia said. "We gave up three goals on Saturday night. A little confusion, is it a three-on-two or a three-on-three? And who has got who? That can be overcome a little bit by just better communication and that is something we have stressed from Day 1. Things happen a little quicker in [Michigan State's] rink."
The Spartans' rink is NHL-size, meaning it is narrower than the Olympic-size sheet of ice at Mariucci Arena.