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Brad E. Schlossman / Forum Communications Co., Published January 15 2010

Gophers hockey team trying to turn its season to gold

MINNEAPOLIS – Soon, it will be known whether the Minnesota men’s hockey team has truly turned around another disappointing season.

The 6-1 record in the last seven games suggests that the team with 20 NHL draft picks has finally found its game and will roll to the postseason. But those wins came against 11-11-2 Minnesota State-Mankato, 3-18-1 Michigan Tech, 3-17-2 Bowling Green and 3-10-2 Harvard.

Minnesota, barely over the .500 mark at 11-10-1, holds a 3-9-1 record against teams with winning records. That will need to drastically improve if the Gophers want to be playing in the NCAA tournament in March.

There are seven weeks left in the regular season and Minnesota will spend six of them playing teams ranked in the top 11 in the Pairwise Rankings. That portion of the schedule starts this weekend against rival UND in Mariucci Arena.

The Gophers need to move up at least 12 spots from their No. 25 Pairwise position to get an at-large bid into the NCAAs, but will have to play St. Cloud State, Denver, Colorado College, Minnesota-Duluth and Wisconsin to close the season.

“I’m looking forward to it,” Minnesota coach Don Lucia said. “It should be a good test.

“We’re playing better. We’ve improved as a team. We’re learning what we have to do in order to be successful. We don’t have a large margin for error each week because we’re not a high-scoring team.”

The Gophers haven’t found any area to hang their hats on.

They are eighth in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association in offense, eighth in defense, eighth in power play, eighth in penalty kill, ninth in defenseman scoring and goalie Alex Kangas ranks ninth in both goals-against average and save percentage.

Minnesota doesn’t have any scorer ranked in the top 22 in the conference and for the first time this decade, they don’t have any clear-cut all-WCHA players.

For UND, that doesn’t matter.

“They are a good skating team and they are on a pretty good roll right now,” UND coach Dave Hakstol said. “Anytime you go on the road in the WCHA and play a team that’s playing well, it’s a big challenge. It’s a tough task going into Mariucci and taking points. You have to rise to the occasion. You have to elevate your play to get points in the second half in the WCHA.”

Brad Schlossman is a writer for Grand Forks Herald, which is owned by Forum Communications Co.