When a team is on the losing end of a rivalry, it often downplays the significance of those defeats, or even feigns ignorance. The Gophers rejected that kind of coy gamesmanship this week, choosing to confront their recent Minnesota malaise head-on.
Forward Hudson Fasching and defenseman Michael Brodzinski were keenly aware that their team has won once in its past 11 games against in-state rivals. They were just as quick to cite some other numbers, ones that have them believing their fortunes could turn in this weekend’s North Star College Cup. The Gophers enter the all-Minnesota tournament at Xcel Energy Center on a five-game win streak, with only one non-overtime loss in their past 12 games.
Fasching said the Gophers are melding into a group, as players have grown increasingly familiar with each other and with their places in the system. When they play Bemidji State on Saturday — and either No. 3 St. Cloud State or No. 19 Minnesota State Mankato on Sunday — they will get a better benchmark of how far they have come, as well as a chance to regain bragging rights within the state’s borders.
“There are a lot of people out there talking about how we’re 1-10 against teams from Minnesota, so I think we’re really excited and motivated to do our best against some other in-state teams,” said Fasching, who has 11 goals and eight assists in the past 12 games. “We definitely take a lot of pride in trying to be the best team in Minnesota, and the fact that we haven’t done it in the [recent] past is not fun.
“We still know all those guys that are on those teams. We grew up playing with them, and there’s still a lot of fire in those battles. We want to come back and make sure we get a good weekend in here.”
The Gophers re-entered the rankings this week, slipping in at No. 20 in the USCHO.com poll after manhandling Wisconsin last weekend. They outscored the Badgers 13-2 in the sweep, continuing a recent upward trend on both ends of the ice. During the five-game win streak, their longest of the season, the Gophers have outscored opponents 28-6 with an offense that is operating more smoothly and a defense anchored by a goaltender hitting his stride.
Freshman Eric Schierhorn, the starting goalie in every game this season, has a goals-against average of 1.20 and save percentage of .951 in that span. Key forwards such as Fasching and Justin Kloos have picked up their scoring. The offense, coach Don Lucia said, is moving the puck quickly and efficiently and setting up more scoring chances around the net.
“It’s fun to watch them make strides,” Lucia said of his young team. “I’m happy for our guys, that they were able to stay with the process, stay engaged and come to the rink every day to get better. Now they’re starting to see some results.”
Seeing those results continue this weekend, Fasching said, would be particularly meaningful.
Lucia said games against Minnesota opponents feel a little different without league points at stake. But he noted that the tournament setup — and the trophy that goes with it — helps keep the rivalries strong, a point seconded by his players.
“Nobody wants to be 1-10 in their state,” Brodzinski said. “I think that really puts a little fire in everybody’s stomach. We want to get back at all the in-state teams.”