Gophers coach Don Lucia said Wednesday he has a lot of confidence in Kent Patterson, the team's junior goalie.
"When you look at Kent -- from early in the season, he has played extremely well," Lucia said. "You look at his league record. He is 7-2- in the league right now. And his goals-against average and save percentage is right where you want it to be."
In WCHA games, Patterson is fourth with a 2.24 goals-against average and second with a .926 save percentage.
"Kent has given us a chance to win every night. What we need right now is to try to find a way to score one more goal a game. And, if we can do that, that will go a long way in helping us take another step the second half."
Patterson began this season as the No. 2 goalie behind senior Alex Kangas, but Kangas had season-ending hip surgery on Friday. "I saw him in the training room [Tuesday]," Lucia said. "He was doing really well, a lot better than actually I even thought. He has to be on crutches for a couple weeks and then just start the rehab.
"He is already on the bike a little bit. "
When Kangas told the media last week he would have surgery, he was not sure at the time if he could apply for an extra season based on medical hardship. Turns out his situation met the criteria, but he won't be coming back.
"Because he is going to graduate this spring and because of his age -- he played two years of juniors before -- in his mind he wants to try to play post-college," Lucia said. "And I understand that."
GOPHERS ADD THIRD GOALIE
Without Kangas, the Gophers were down to two goalies, Patterson and junior Jake Kremer. But not for long.
They have added Alex Fons to the roster.
"In case something were to happen to one of our two -- you have to have two available," Lucia said, now the Gophers have a third option. "And now for practice purposes, Kent doesn't have to be in the net every second of every practice. He can get some relief and we will still have two goalies."
Lucia said he told Fons that "we don't yet" if there will be a roster spot for him next season. "We'll see how this semester goes and figure out what direction we want to go after that," Lucia said.
"[Fons] had been accepted to school in the fall and didn't end up coming, so it was an easy admit. He had a successful high school career at Hopkins and was a member of some of these select teams in the state of Minnesota.
"This is something he wanted to do," Lucia said, "and we are grateful that he wants to be a part of this team this year."
Fons graduated from Hopkins in 2010. He played a few games for Alexandia of the NAHL last fall.
WAIT CONTINUES FOR OUTDOOR GAME
Lucia said he is just waiting for the "higher-ups" to give the go-ahead for an outdoor game next season.
"We should do it," Lucia said. "I know it is an expensive proposition. That is part of what they are looking at, the crunching of numbers, it's 50,000. It's not 80,000 or 90,000 -- that is a lot of extra tickets."
The 50,000 Lucia was referring to was the number of hockey fans the U could draw for an outdoor game at TCF Bank Stadium, which is about half what other outdoor venues in recent years have drawn.
"[Playing an outdoor game] is ultimately for administrators to determine," Lucia said. "But we are headed in that direction but nothing has been finalized yet."
Lucia there was a time when the Gophers wanted to parlay the outdoor game together with a Wild game, but it is uncertain if the Wild will play outdoors next season or two, three seasons from now.
"We are getting to the point now, at least for next year, we have to make a decision soon whether we want to go ahead and do it on our own or not," Lucia said.
Bruce McLeod, the commissioner of the WCHA, said the conference is holding a date open for the Gophers to play outdoors. Don't be surprised if the opponent is Notre Dame, the CCHA team which Lucia played for in college.
If the men's team does play an outdoor game next season, the women's hockey team also would be part of the event. A team spokesperson said the women's team would try to schedule a marquee opponent "but nothing has been set like a date or anything else like that. It's in the works."
BARRIBALL'S MISSED ICE TIME
So was Gophers captain Jay Barriball sick, injured or benched on Friday when he missed the end of the first period and all of the second?
According to a source close to the situation, Barriball was having breathing problems on Friday. As a youngster he had asthma as a high school hockey player sometimes used an inhaler. Barriball has not had breathing problems in college.
But the atmosphere on Friday at the Ralph was electric. He and his teammates were excited. And, for whatever reason(s), it became too hard for him to play.
THE DON'S VIEWS
* On North Dakota series: "We're healthy, that's a non-issue. Both teams played hard and it was a fun series. It always is. We came out with a very important two points for us, that is for sure."
* On what Gophers are stressing this week in practices: "The most important thing is, we want to get some time in our speciality areas. We want to set some lines up as we move forward here the last basically third of the season, although basically 50 percent left in the WCHA.
"Our play on our specialty teams has hurt us as much as anything. And probably our penalty kill the most when you look at -- even this past weekend. We gave up four goals on our penalty kill. And on two of them we had pucks on our sticks on our backhand at the half wall to clear and we don't get it out of the zone. And that has happened to us numerous times this year. We have to get better in that area.
"Some guys understanding you have more time than you think. Being sound positionally. It's not our goaltender. Ninety percent of the penalty kill in the two minutes is great but that 10-second letdown is costing us."
* On scoring concerns: "We need our top-end guys to score on a consistent basis, but you also need the secondary scoring. When you look at the last 10 games, we haven't given up many goals but we haven't scored very many either. We have to find a way to get to three [goals] every night. When you get to three you are going to have a chance to win."
* On recruiting: The Gophers are not necessarily done signing players for next season. The next signing period starts in mid-April. "You are always out looking. Whether it is watching 15-year-olds or 20-year-olds. It is just an ongoing deal. This is a good week -- because we don't play -- to go watch, like for me, a couple junior games on Sunday and Monday night. We'll be out en masse this weekend as well."