Their record is an unblemished 8-0, they've yet to trail in any game and they sit atop both major men's college hockey polls. Indeed, things have gone almost perfectly for the Gophers in the 2020-21 season.
With this being Minnesota, however, and the Minnesota sports fan being conditioned by birthright to always look for the black cloud that absolutely must be following a silver lining, something's going to go wrong, correct?
"Are we going to have adversity? You're darn right we will," Gophers coach Bob Motzko said during a video conference this week. "It'll make us better."
After a break of 3 ½ weeks, the Gophers will put their coach's theory to the test on Sunday and Monday with a nonconference series against Arizona State at 3M Arena at Mariucci. It's the first of 10 series in as many weeks until the regular season closes March 6, and Motzko is hopeful his team can pick up where it left off — a dominant sweep of Michigan in Ann Arbor on Dec. 8-9. He also knows the time off can be an opponent, too.
"Those eight games are over, we had a long break here, and a coach's biggest fear is we've got to get back on top in games right away," he said. "I wish we could snap a finger and be hitting that level again — that's my Christmas wish — but there's no question there's going to be a little rust."
The Gophers have excelled this season on defense and special teams, with goalie Jack LaFontaine's 1.00 goals-against average and .965 save percentage leading the nation, and the penalty kill being a perfect 17-for-17. Motzko believes there is a higher gear for his offense to hit.
Though Minnesota's power play has been solid, ranking sixth nationally at 29% (9-for-31), the team's average of 3.38 goals per game ranks only 14th.
What might help the Gophers knock that rust off is the return of senior forward Brannon McManus, who missed the past four games because of a lower-body injury suffered Nov. 24 against Ohio State. Look for Motzko to reunite McManus, whose five points led the Gophers at the time of his injury, on a line with Sammy Walker and Blake McLaughlin.
"If there's one area after eight games where I think we can take a step forward, it is our offense," Motzko said. "Having [McManus] back in our lineup is a great step. We didn't make a lot of changes when he went down. We just plopped another guy in his spot. It was working for a wins-and-loss standpoint, but we can be better offensively."
The Gophers have used the puck-moving ability of their defensemen to generate offense, but they'll be missing three of those high-end rear guards with Brock Faber, Ryan Johnson and Jackson LaCombe with Team USA at the World Junior Championship. Minnesota overcame their absence in the sweep of Michigan, relying on depth and gritty play.
"We've got some chemistry going." Motzko said. "That showed in blocked shots and faceoffs and special teams."
McManus stressed that the Gophers remember the work that got them to 8-0 and use that as the route to keep things in perspective.
"We all know where we stand right now and how well we've been playing," he said. "It's important for us to not let that get to us and build off what we started. Obviously, we've got something really special going on."
For Motzko, responding properly to the inevitable adversity will be important.
"We're going to get knocked down in a game," he said. "We don't like to talk about it, [but] it's going to come, and we'll be prepared for it.''