Sophomore right wing Zach Budish is 6-3, 221. He is one of the bigger players on the Gophers hockey team and knows the challenge Nebraska Omaha will present on Friday and Saturday at Mariucci Arena.

"They have a lot of older guys that played a coule years of juniors," Budish said. "Their freshman are 20 years old and they got 23, 24 year olds on the team. Their defensemen are big and strong. We have to match their physical play and use our speed on the big sheet here and create chances."

The Gophers swept Massachusetts 5-3 and 5-4 last weekend to open the season. That was a nonconference series against a small, quick team from Hockey East.

The Mavericks, 2-0 and rated No. 17 in the national polls, will be different.

"It is their first WCHA game," Budish said. "They are going to be pumped up, and we are pumped up, too. We are ready to get the WCHA play going. Last year we finished seventh out of 10, which isn't acceptable. We are excited, too. We want to start out on a fresh note this year."

Last season the Gophers were 0-3-1 after starting the season with two games at North Dakota, the eventual Broadmoor Trophy (Final Five) winner, and two games at home against Denver, the eventual MacNaughton Cup (WCHA regular season) winner.

"We got off to a a good start last weekend, but now it is WCHA play so the intensity goes up a little more," Budish said.

UNO is the nation's biggest Division I team. The Mavericks average slightly over 6-1 in height and 199 pounds, one inch and 11 pounds more per man than the Gophers.

"We got a lot of guys who can play the body," said Budish, a former Division I prospect at linebacker when he played football at Edina. "We've got some big forwards. We've got a couple big D back there. We can play physical and match teams like North Dakota and Nebraska Omaha that have bigger guys.

"Even little guys on our team play the body. You don't have to be 6-foot to play the body. Little guys like [5-8 Jacob] Cepis and guys like that play physical and they finish their checks. We've got to get it from every guy in the line-up."

The Gophers coaches have stressed that, especially this week.

"We have had a huge emphasis on going to the net this year and winning one-on-one battles," Budish said. "The compete level in practice [is high] every day. And we have had a couple long practices the last couple days, it's been competing one-on-one, forwards vs. defense. It's been good for us. It makes everyone better. 

"You get better when you are competing every day in practice, not only to get better, but to earn your spot in the line-up every night." 

This season the Gophers have four extra forwards and two extra defensemen.

* Cepis, a senior left wing, called the sweep over UMass a big confidence builder. "We want to do good in our league and it starts this weekend," Cepis said. "[UNO] is a new team in our conference and they will come in here wanting blood."

He said UNO is a gritty team which will battle the whole game. 

Last weekend, the Mavericks had 101 shots on goal in 120 minutes.


In Wednesday's practice, the top line of Mike Hoeffel (1 goal, 3 assists), Erik Haula (4 a) and Jay Barriball (4 g, 1 a) was still together. Barriball was the WCHA's Offensive Player of the Week and his line has combined for 5 goals and 8 assists (13 points) in two games.

On the second line was Jacob Cepis, Nick Bjugstad and Zach Budish, which is the same the Gophers tried in their 6-0 6-0 exhibition victory over British Columbia. Jake Hansen took Budish's spot last weekend in 5-3 and 5-4 victories over UMass.

Hansen was the right wing on the third line with Max Gardiner and Nate Condon. On the fourth line, which kills penalties, were Tom Serratore, Taylor Matson and Nick Larson.

That leaves four players rotating in the other line, Patrick White, Joey Miller, Nico Sacchetti and Jared Larson. ... Miller and Larson did not play last weekend, White was a scratch Friday.

* There will be a lineup switch in the TV booth this weekend. Former Gopher Rob McClanahan will be the color analyst for the Nebraska Omaha series. McClanahan was a center for the Gophers from 1977-79. He scored 45 goals and had 63 assists for 108 points in 121 games.

McClanahan played for Herb Brooks on the gold-medal-winning U.S. hockey team in the 1980 Olympics at Lake Placid, N.Y.