Wednesday Roundup: Another Rivalry, Schmidt Heads Home, Game Day Travel and Bounce Back Win At Wisconsin

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Another Rivalry Weekend

Every WCHA game is meaningful, but Minnesota is playing significant games for the fourth straight weekend when they play St. Cloud State in a home-and-home series.

Three weeks ago, the Gophers traveled to Anchorage, Alaska, for a matchup with the Seawolves. Anchorage ended the Gophers season last year, but Minnesota swept them on their home ice this year. Two weeks ago, the Maroon and Gold swept rival North Dakota at home and the split last weekend at rival Wisconsin.

"We know that when we go to St. Cloud, the place is going to be packed and the students are excited," said coach Don Lucia. "That is what makes it fun. It's a good atmosphere, it's a good rivalry. Our freshmen and sophomore guys haven't played there, so it'll be a new experience for them, but we've been at Duluth this year and we've been at Wisconsin, so they have a taste of it."

For Nate Schmidt, playing rivalry games every weekend is one of the reasons he decided to become a Gopher.

"We play these rivalry weekends back-to-back-to-back and that's the reason why I play," said Schmidt. "That's the reason why I came to the University of Minnesota--you're going to get everyone's best shot."

Schmidt Heads Home

Go Gophers! Nate Schmidt
Go Gophers!
Nate Schmidt, who is from St. Cloud, Minn., leads the Gophers with 12 assists.
Go Gophers!
Schmidt is the only member of Minnesota's team who is from St. Could, Minn. The defenseman, who leads the Gophers with 12 assists (tied for third nationally), will play against the Huskies in St. Cloud for the first time in his career.

"For me, personally, it's a big rivalry," said Schmidt. "I grew up watching this series since I could walk. I think the in-state rivalry is the biggest part of what makes college hockey in Minnesota what it is. It gets the people excited.

"These Husky-Gopher games--it's something else. It's really the atmosphere. They sell three-deep in standing room and you can't really see the game if you're not there an hour early. I'm excited.  It's definitely a dream come true for me. Going home to play. I'm really excited about it."

Schmidt played one game against his hometown school last season, but that was in Mariucci Arena. He is looking forward to skating on familiar ice in the National Hockey Center.

"The beauty of it for me is that I played in the rink growing up," he said. "I know the bounces of the rink, so that's not going to be a change as much as the atmosphere. I'm playing in front of friends and family and that's going to be helpful for me."

Two of those family members will be his parents, who happen to have attended St. Cloud State. It took a little bit of time for them to come around to him being a Gopher.

"It was toughest for my dad," he said. "My dad went to St. Cloud State and so did my mom. He kind of turned a new leaf in this new year, so it's easier for him.

"Growing up I had St. Cloud season tickets with my dad and we'd go to a lot of home games. We'd cheer against every team that came in, including the Gophers. It's one of those situations where the tides have changed a little bit. As I've matured and grown up, it's something I have to bear with now that I'm coming home. I'm excited about the weekend and I can't be happier now that I'm a Gopher."

Traveling Day Of The Game

This weekend is a little bit different for the Gophers than most in the WCHA. They will play at St. Cloud State on Friday and then host the Huskies on Saturday. Minnesota will bus to St. Cloud Friday afternoon for the game that night. So instead of taking morning skate at the visiting rink in the morning and having all day to prepare for a road game, the Gophers will have to be ready to play pretty much when they step off the bus.

"I think that we have to get into the routine right away that when we get up there," said Schmidt. "We have to have the mindset that we have to play. We have to have a successful first period because that's the biggest thing in that arena. The energy is going to be setting off the Richter scale and everyone's going to be excited. It's the first time we've been there in a couple years. We just have to take it one game at a time, especially when we come back here to play on Saturday night."

For coach Lucia, he not only worries about having the guys ready, but he also worries about the traffic on I-94.

"The only pain is judging traffic on Friday," said Lucia. "Is it going to take us two hours to get up there or an hour and fifteen? That's the part that's hard and it is a 7:30 p.m. start rather than 7:00, so we'll get back a little bit later. But when you're 65-70 miles away it's the right thing to do a home-and-home. It's good on both sides that instead of having a two-game set at home, we'll get them once here and once in January."

Bouncing Back

The Gophers suffered their first road loss of the season last Friday at Wisconsin. However, they bounced back with a convincing 4-1 win on Saturday night at Kohl Center.

For Lucia, Saturday provided an opportunity to see how his young team would handle a WCHA loss on the road.

"I thought that it was an important to see how our guy would bounce back because I think they'd all say they kind of laid an egg on Friday and they didn't have a lot and that Wisconsin outplayed us and deserved to win the game," said Lucia. "It just reinforced that if you're not mentally and physically engaged to play, you don't give yourself a chance to win. Even Saturday, we were engaged and mentally and physically ready to play and it was a tie game going into the third, so it just reinforces that you have to be dialed in to give yourself a chance to win. It doesn't guarantee you're going to win, but it gives you a chance."

Schmidt said the coaches challenged the team to put Friday behind them and to be better on Saturday.

"It was a long waiting period from Friday to Saturday night with the video and the meetings," said Schmidt. "I think everyone was just trying to see how we would respond and the coaches said, 'Are you for real? Are you guys going to come out and be the team that we think you're capable of being or are we going to lay down because we weren't successful last night?' Games like that are going to happen. You're going to have those certain situations where you're not on like we weren't on Friday, but to come back on Saturday was a good bounce back for us."

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