For three consecutive weeks, the Gophers have come out noticeably flat Friday night in what seems to be a freefall back to reality after starting the season 9-1-0. The Gophers are now 11-4-1.
This weekend, however, Minnesota figures to be sharper in the series opener as it looks to exact revenge on an in-state rival.
Minnesota State swept the Gophers last season in Mankato and the current senior class has yet to win a home game against the Mavericks.
“I mean, you look back at that, and it’s not embarrassing, but coming to Minnesota you want to be a part of something that’s the best Minnesota team in the state,” senior captain Taylor Matson said. “It’s definitely a rival weekend and we’re looking forward to that.”
It’s been nearly a month since Minnesota swept rival North Dakota at Mariucci Arena and was ranked No. 1 in the nation in the following week.
Since that series, the Gophers are 2-3-1 in their last six games and have lacked intensity.
“It was kind of an eye-opener,” defenseman Seth Helgeson said of last weekend’s series with Michigan State. “We haven’t really faced that kind of adversity — we’ve been doing so well and usually recording at least two points over the weekend.”
No. 5 Minnesota (11-4-1, 8-2-0 WCHA) earned just one point that weekend with a loss and a tie and has struggled in recent weeks. But a return home may serve as a remedy — the Gophers are 6-1-0 on home ice this season.
Though this home series should help Minnesota, it could have an adverse effect on the Mavericks, who are 2-6-0 on the road this season and are last in the WCHA.
These woes can be attributed to the patchwork the team (3-10-1, 2-7-1 WCHA) has had to do within its roster.
“It’s awfully difficult at any level when you’re playing without half a dozen of the players you expect to have in your lineup,” head coach Don Lucia said of the Mavericks’ depleted roster. “They’ve got some good freshmen that are playing very well for them, but more than anything else they’re waiting to get their guys back.”
Minnesota State also played three different goaltenders last weekend and has yet to find stability in net.
Austin Lee is a three-year letter winner with the Mavericks, but is 3-7-0 on the season.
Minnesota’s offense, on the other hand, has been firing on all cylinders as of late and will look to exploit the lack of consistency between the pipes.
Nick Bjugstad has been a main contributor in this offensive outburst. He leads the team with 15 goals and 25 points.
He has also recorded a point in five straight games, but the Gophers have only tallied two wins in that time.
Despite its recent mishaps, Minnesota is still in first place in the WCHA, ahead of both Minnesota-Duluth and Nebraska-Omaha by one point.
Matson said the team’s success this weekend and ability to pad its lead in the league will hinge on Friday’s intensity.
“On Friday nights you want to come out and set [yourself] up for a good weekend,” Matson said. “We’re just focusing on the first period of every game and trying to get that first goal because when we score first we’ve been great all year.”