Gophers look for payback in Alaska

Minnesota was swept by Alaska-Anchorage in the WCHA playoffs last season.
  • Satchell Mische-Richter, Daily File Photo
October 27, 2011

Minnesota was unbeaten in its final seven games of the 2010-11 season and seemed to be rolling into the WCHA playoffs.

Then it ran into Alaska-Anchorage.

The Seawolves were 16-18-3 overall last season and 12-14-2 in the WCHA, but swept the Gophers in the first round of the WCHA playoffs, prematurely ending Minnesota’s season.

That series sweep is something no one from last season has forgotten.

“That’s obviously in the back of your mind,” senior forward Jake Hansen said. “We started playing such good hockey toward the end of the year and then I think guys were thinking we were going to sweep them and go to the Final Five and clearly that didn’t happen.

“We want a little payback, but at the same time it’s about winning these WCHA games and starting out to a good start in WCHA play.”

No. 8 Minnesota (5-1-0, 2-0-0 WCHA) has already earned four crucial WCHA points from a series sweep with Minnesota-Duluth on Oct. 14-15.

“We’re grateful that we put some points in the bank up in Duluth from our first road trip,” head coach Don Lucia said. “We played pretty well on the road.”

It will be the team’s second road trip in as many WCHA matchups this season.

This road trip will be a little different than the Gophers’ first road trip to Duluth, though.

Minnesota will travel on a nearly six-hour flight to Alaska and will arrive three hours behind its normal time zone.

“It’s not the easiest trip to make … but I feel with how good of shape we are in this year it can’t be an excuse at all,” Hansen said.

The Gophers were 7-4-3 on the road last season, but are 2-0-0 this season and hope to continue their early road success through the weekend.

Whether they can will hinge on their offensive play, which has been a strength of the team this season.

The Gophers possess the most potent offense in the nation, averaging 5.83 goals per game. They have scored at least four goals in every game this season.

Alaska-Anchorage (3-2-1, 0-2-0 WCHA) has allowed 16 goals this season.

“We have to try and win games that are going to be lower scoring,” Lucia said. “We’re not going to go up there and score a bunch of goals — they don’t give you a lot.

“They’re very disciplined … and they [have] a veteran basically in every position so it will be a really good test for our group.”

Minnesota’s penalty kill has also been key in its 5-1-0 start.

The Gophers have killed off 29 of 33 opposing power play opportunities this season.

“It’s a lot different than last year,” junior defenseman Seth Helgeson said of the team’s penalty kill. “Our penalty kill has been going really well and I think we need to keep improving on it and it’s going to help us in the long run.”

Lucia added that St. Cloud State’s head coach, Bob Motzko, said this is the best Alaska-Anchorage team he has seen.

The Seawolves beat St. Cloud State 4-3 in overtime at the Kendall Hockey Classic on Oct. 8.

“I think we’re all getting prepared for this week,” Helgeson said. “They proved earlier this year they can win and they’ve got a good solid team, so it’s going to be very important for us to go up there and get some points.”

Lucia reiterated many times on Wednesday how important it is to earn WCHA points early in the season.

“We’re definitely going to get some points this weekend,” goaltender Kent Patterson said. “I can’t promise anything, but were going to go out there and give it our best and try not to beat ourselves.”

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