Gophers coach Don Lucia said Nick Larson's wrist surgery on Tuesday went well and he should rejoin the team before the season ends.
Larson, a senior center or right wing, was injured in the first period of the Gophers' Saturday night game at North Dakota. A UND player checked him as he was trying to bring the puck out of his defensive zone.
"There was no ligament damage or anything like that, so they just plated it," Lucia said. "He should be back before the year is over."
Usually players who suffer similar injuries are back in four to six weeks, Lucia said, so he expects Larson back near the end of February.
"It's tough having a senior leader like him out of the lineup," sophomore center Nick Bjugstad said. "Hopefully he can be back before the end of the season."
Larson had three goals and one assist for four points in 21 games. He played right wing on the four line in 19 of those games.
During the Gophers' weekly media day on Wednesday, Lucia also said that sophomore forward Jared Larson will be red-shirted. "We are getting him in the weight room," Lucia said. "We talked to him about that the first half of the year and, finally before Christmas, felt like that was a good plan for him."
Jared Larson has not played in a game this season. As a freshman in 2010-11, he had no points in eight games. He went to high school at Eastview and then played two seasons for the Fairbanks Ice Dogs of the NAHL
"So we have 14 forwards available," Lucia said, not counting Nick Larson for now, "and they are going to battle it out this week. I told some of those guys, nobody is in and nobody is out. Their play this week [in practice] will determine where they are in the line-up [this weekend] or if they are in the line-up."
CC DIFFERENT CHALLENGE
Colorado College, the Gophers opponent this weekend at Mariucci, is third in the WCHA in scoring, averaging 3.68 goals per game. The Gophers are second, averaging 4.0 goals.
"They have a lot of offensive talent, we know that," Bjugstad said. "They are a fast team. They like to play a fast-paced transition game. I think it will be a little different than what we played in North Dakota last weekend.
"We will adjust. I think we have some fast guys as well. So hopefully we can put it on the scoreboard."
Bjugstad said the Gophers need to play hard both nights -- "Friday night we haven't really brought it".
Last Friday, the Gophers lost 2-1 to North Dakota at The Ralph, but won 6-2 on Saturday to break a three-game losing steak.. "It was good to break that slump," he said.
Now the Gophers just need to get their power play (23.9 percent) going again. "We noticed CC plays a little different on their PK," Bjugstad said. "We have been practicing already. We hae been noticing their tendencies. We started off well with our power play. But we are kind of off and on, so we have to make sure we are consistent with that."
CC has the WCHA's best power play, which is at 25 percent, and one of the league's best players in sophomore Jaden Schwartz, who was the captain of Canada in the World Juniors. Bjugsatd played against Schwartz in that international tournament..
"He is a real crafty player, super fast," Bjugstad said. "I know him and his brother [junior Rylan] have a really good connection and his brother is scoring a lot of goals, so we will have to look out for those two this weekend."
Lucia agreed. "CC is as fast a team as you will see in college hockey," he said. "They have a very good transition game. They have an outstanding power play. Our discipline is going to have to be important, our penalty killing is going to have to be important this weekend."
The Gophers have a budding superstar themselves, in Bjugstad, of course.
"[This season] you see the difference between a freshman and a sophomore in somebody that came right out of high school," Lucia said. "Like most kids who come directly out of high school, there is an adjustment period. He had that last year.
"You started to see him go to a different level last spring. And when the year began this season, he had a good offseason in the weight room, he came back more confident. Now he is getting that No. 1 power play time and No. 1 line and he is having the kind of year we needed from him to be successful."
Lucia has kept the top three lines together for the most part since the beginning of the season. But he is trying a few different combinations in practice this week. Here are Wednesday's lines:
1st line/ Kyle Rau-Nick Bjugstad-Zach Budish. No changes here. Bjugstad had two goals on Saturday and now is on the verge of becoming the Gophers' first 20-goal scorer in three years. He has 19.
2nd line/ Jake Hansen-Erik Haula-Seth Ambroz. Ambroz and Haula played on one of the USHL's top lines two years ago at Omaha. Trying them together only makes sense. The wonder is it took so long. Ambroz has played on third line, but seems like he is getting more comfortable in WCHA. He just needs to eliminate bad penalties. On this line, one of the wingers has to switch sides and play on his off wing. Guessing it's Hansen who has done that in past.
3rd line/ Nate Condon-Taylor Matson-Christian Isackson. Isackson, a freshman, has played in seven games this season, seven at center, two at right wing. He has yet to get a point.
4th line/ Sam Warning-Travis Boyd-Joey Miller. Warning has played on second line most of season, but has only three goals. Boyd is looking for his first goal. Miller, a senior, has played in just four games, all recently.
Extras/ Tom Serratore and Nico Sacchetti. Serratore has played in 23 games and is gritty. Expect him to be in the lineup against physical teams, which Colorado College isn't.
THE DON SAYS
* On the state of the Gophers: "I like the foundation. Our foundation is what we have done defensively this year. We have a very good goals-against average, especially five-on-five. We have to continue to do that. .. We have to continue to work on our offense and let defense be our foundation."
* On whether playing CC is special for him anymore: "It's so long ago. I had six great years there. Scott [CC coach Scott Owens] and I coached together for two years. I was really happy and pushed for him to get the job when I left [before the 1999-2000 season]. He has done a terrific job there and continued to build on what we were able to do together. He was the right guy, he is an alum and everything else. He is a great fit for CC because it is a special school with a block plan and everything."
* On whether the Gophers would want to play an outdoor game at Target Field: "If they want to front the expenses. If you talk to Joel [AD Joel Maturi], that is always the big worry, the expense factor and the risk involved and that has been his hesitation. We talked about the Notre Dame game originally it was supposed to be an outdoor game at TCF Bank Stadium. But with the cost of snow removal the year before, everybody got a little bit nervous. Unfortunately, this year would have been a great year because there was no snow removal [needed]. But you can't plan on that.
"If Target Field wanted to do something like that, I would certainly be interested and want to do it. That for me is something I would like to be a part of while I coach."
* On playing a nonconference game at The Ralph in the future: "We will go back there as a nonconference team. We have a great rivalry. Sometimes it gets a little over the top and I am not sure that is healthy for anybody. So we will continue to play but I doubt we will continue to play each and every year."
Lucia said he has 32 of the 34 games scheduled already for 2013-14, the Gophers' first season in the Big Ten Conference. And those two remaining games, he said, have to be at Mariucci. [The U has to play at least 20 games at home each season for budget purposes.]