"Our team was finally rewarded this weekend," Gophers coach Don Lucia said on his weekly radio show on Monday evening. ""Did we play well? Yes. I thought we played very well. We seemed to be in control most of the weekend, every period.
"We had that stretch early in the third on Saturday where I know Grant [assistant coach Grant Potulny] came up to be and said, 'Should we call a timeout?' when they made it 5-4. But I really felt the plays where they made it 5-4 -- we blocked a shot. It goes right to their defenseman. They score for three [the third goal]. And then they put one on the shin pads for four.
"I thought we could ride it out. And we did. And then the game even backed out and we were able to get six and seven on Saturday. A happy locker room. A reward for our team. It is like anything, you feel much better when you win. It was more fun to watch U.S. beat Canada on Sunday after we won.
"But it is back to work this week against a very good UMD team. And win or lose on the weekend, that weekend is over, it's time to get back to work on Monday and get ready for the upcoming weekend."
Lucia said he liked the way his team shot the puck against the Tigers. "We worked on it so hard all year long to get the guys convinced, 'Don't take a wrist shot,' ," he said. "When you take a wrist shot from the point, a defenseman is going to step in front of that shot and block it because it is not going to hurt very much. When you are winding up and putting the heat on it, you have a much better chance to get pucks through. Have a better chance to score goals.
"And we had a much better net presence in the game, especially on Saturday, really all weekend long to be around the net for some of those rebound goals. That was nice to see."
He said the defensemen also were doing a good job of one-timing the puck. "We were preaching on that and they were finally rewarded with the four goals on Saturday night," Lucia said.
The Eye: If Sherlock Holmes was listening, he probably would say, "Elementay Watson." This all seems like common sense. Shoot hard, shoot fast. Score.
Lucia said he was probably going to show clips from the U.S.-Canada game on Sunday to the Gophers this week. "It's nice to show clips from the pros because obviously that is there goal to get there some day," Lucia said. "But to show how hard they play or some of the things they do, they are just reinforcement clips for our guys."
Lucia said the Gophers can keep playing as well as they did against CC. "Obviously, we need the goaltender to continue to play well," Lucia said. "That becomes a critical component.
"If your goalie outplays the other team's goalie, you have a great chance to win. If he really outplays him, you have an even better chance to win."
He said his defensive corpts responded well after "not a great game" in a 5-1 loss to No. 1-rated Denver on Saturday the weekend before. "They did a much better job around our net," Lucia said, "and did a lot of good things. And that's what you want to see from good kids. When they make mistakes or maybe not play the way they would like to be playing, they respond in a positive fashion."
Lucia said there is a fine line between winning and losing in the WCHA and UMD is struggling a bit, going 2-6-0 in its last eight games.
"UMD is a smaller rink, so we will be on Ridder in preparation," Lucia said. "It was good that we were just at Denver a week ago. Getting ready for this series, we are really working hard on supporting the puck offensively and defensively. You can't be afraid to shoot in that small rink. That's going to be really important.
"[The Bulldogs] are really a good team. Just like last weekend our penalty kill is going to be crucial. We killed off 12 out of 13, which is a few too many [power plays for an opponent] than we would like. But our penalty killers really did a great job last weekend and helped us win."
Lucia said his players really have a tendency to look for a better play too much. "Shoot the puck as much as you can," Lucia said. "Shoot from bad angles. Just get pucks to the net and get on it. Because boy in that rink I don't think it is even 85 feet wide, so you can be a little outside the dot or circle and you are not that far away. [So] get that thing to the net because it can be a little bit like a pinball in there."
Here is UMD's record the past eight games.
Jan. 22-23 at BSU, at UMD
Bemidji State 4, UMD 1
Bemidji State 5, UMD 4
Jan. 29-30 at DECC
Wisconsin 5, UMD 2
UMD 4, Wisconsin 0
Feb. 5-6 at MSU Mankato
MSU 3, UMD 1
UMD 3, MSU 2
Feb. 19-20 at North Dakota
North Dakota 5, UMD 2
North Dakota 5, UMD 1
In four of their six recent losses, the Bulldogs have given up five goals. A bad trend.
ONE STEP FORWARD, ONE BACK
"It seems whenever we had a chance to get some momentum, something has happened to push us back down," Lucia said, referring to Taylor Matson's ankle surgery and Mike Hoeffel's mononucleosis.
"Hopefully the rest of this year, we can stay healthy. Because we have some kids emerging, young kids. I like the way Josh Birkholz played this weekend. [The freshman winger had two goals.] Now can he keep it up because he's got big-time ability, it's just that consistency.
"Nick Leddy is really playing well and, since he has been playing really well, David Fischer is playing his best hockey of the year the last few weeks as well. And all of a sudden that pair -- I saw Nick Leddy is our best plus-minus guy on our team right now. [He's[ very quiet in his own zone and now he is starting to jump up into the offense. He had a goal and an assist in the game on Saturday, so his confidence is growing.
"So now we need to continue that against UMD."