Minneapolis, Minn. — Minnesota capped its non-conference schedule with a win over top ranked St. Cloud State, and their 9-3 record against some of the better teams from the NCHC and ECAC positioned them comfortably at No. 9 in the PairWise Rankings. They followed it up with a pair of frustrating efforts against Michigan getting swept at home 5-3, 3-1 in a key weekend to right the ship in conference play.
The Gophers are the only school to have won the re-booted Big Ten Hockey Conference and built up a 34-8-3 record at home during the streak. They’ve never been swept at home in Big Ten conference play and their last time being swept at home came in 2011 to Alaska Anchorage in a First Round WCHA Playoffs series. It might be cooking the books, but the last time the Wolverine swept the Gophers in Minneapolis came in February 1977.
The losses dropped Minnesota (13-12-1, 4-9-1-1) down to No. 15 in the PWR and brought Michigan (10-10-2, 5-7-2-1) up into a tie for No. 15 in the PWR. The usual suspects were present for Saturday’s game: bad start, turnovers, penalties in the offensive zone, chasing the game and a power play looking for answers.
“What we’re doing right now isn’t working and we know that–we’re trying to find something to change. We got to get everybody on the same page and just buy in to the system,” Darian Romanko said.
“I think it’s not necessarily a lack of chemistry between the guys, but we just need to build upon that chemistry whether it’s here at the rink or outside of the rink.”
The Gophers will have a short week to find some answers as they’ll play Michigan State in East Lansing, Mich. on Thursday and then play the Spartans at Madison Square Garden Saturday.
“We had a team meeting after coaches left to address each other. We’ve got to hold each other accountable, we’ve got to hold ourselves accountable,” said captain Tyler Sheehy. “We’ve got 10 games left, you feel it for the seniors right now. I’m a junior, feels like yesterday I was just a freshman, blink of an eye it feels like it’s over.”
After four seasons of dominance in their new conference the Gophers find themselves in sixth place, ahead of only Michigan State. The offense continues to hold the team back from consistency as goals against and penalty killer have been some of the strength. The struggles to get anything going were highlighted Saturday during a two shot on goal third period performance.
“As the game progressed sometimes we got in our own way, the harder you try, the worse it gets kind of deal… you start to become individualistic, don’t share the puck, don’t make the right play because you’re trying too hard,” Don Lucia said. “You think you are going to solve it all yourself, but hockey it doesn’t work that way.”
The announced attendance of 9,908 didn’t have much to get excited about in the third period. The Gophers struggled to get any flow going to their game, only attempted 13 shots during the final period and ran out of time against a Michigan team that didn’t allow any odd man rushes against.
“Guys aren’t having the years they want, it’s frustrating, but at the end of the day you just got to understand if we go to St. Paul and we play well–that’s the goal,” Sheehy said. “The points at the end of the year is not going to matter, you can’t be selfish, it’s a team effort every night, we’ve just got to come together here these next 10 games and post-season we got to be great.”