Mark Alt said one reason that the Gophers are allowing only 2.07 goals-per-game is because the team has worked hard to block shots this year.
GopherSports: Mark, how would you describe Minnesota's season so far?
Mark Alt: We started off hot and were 9-1-0. That was a nice way to start the season because we are a young team. As the year has progressed we have definitely improved. We had a little slump after Christmas and we are kind of coming out of that now. We are getting stronger and playing better.
GS: Many people would be surprised to learn that Minnesota's defense is allowing the fourth fewest in the nation. What has been the biggest difference between last year and this year for the defense?
MA: For me, a big help has been coach Guentzel. He has really broken down our defense. He has really structured our defensive zone and made it easier for us to defend and keep pucks out of our zone and away from Kent. He has really helped out a lot.
GS: Is there anything specific that you can talk about that the defense is doing different?
MA: I think a big thing is our gaps and how close we are playing to the forwards who are coming at us. We have had real tight gaps and have been taking away chances to shoot. When opponents do get a chance to shoot we have been practicing on blocking shots and making sure we are getting in the way. We are doing whatever we can to get a stick or a pad on a puck.
GS: It also seems like the defense is producing more offense this year. You have 16 points. Has this been a coming out year offensively for you?
MA: I feel a lot more comfortable on the blueline this year. I am a lot more patient with the puck and that is something I wanted to work on. I am holding onto the puck and getting my eyes up more so I can try to make plays. When I do get the puck one of my biggest jobs it to get it on net. I have to get hard shots on the net for a rebound or get a shot off that can be tipped in. Offensively, being more patient for me is a big key.
GS: You play St. Cloud this weekend after splitting with them earlier this year. What do you expect those games to be like?
MA: We expect them to be fast and physical. That is how they came out on the Friday we lost at their place earlier this year. We let them set the tone a little bit. I think it is important for us to set the tone for the weekend on Friday. We need to expect that they are going to be coming at us and that it will be a fast and physical game. Defensively we need to be sound and keep pucks out of our end.
GS: There are only 10 games left in the regular season. Is that something you guys are aware of or are you taking the one game at a time approach?
MA: A little bit of both. We always try to take it one game at a time, but at practice this week coach has been talking about how we have to be aware of where are. We have 10 games left in the regular season and each one matters. We cannot really be splitting weekends at this point in the year. We need to focus on getting two wins each weekend. We need to play one game at a time, but need to know that time is winding down as well.
GS: You picked to play college hockey over college football. What was the driving force behind that decision?
MA: Hockey was always my first love. I played all sports growing up, but narrowed it down as I got older. Hockey and football were the two that I stuck with in high school. With my family background, hockey was not the route my family was planning on, but that is what I wanted to do. When I was presented the opportunity to play college hockey, I knew that was what I wanted to do and made that choice in high school.
GS: Your dad played football at Iowa before playing in the NFL. However, the Gophers have beaten Iowa in football the last two years. Is that something the two of you talk about?
MA: I don't talk about that at all. I know he goes to those games when they are here on campus, but those have been tough for him. He is a loyal fan and when Iowa comes up here he is always there. I have just kind of smiled when I have gone home after Minnesota beat Iowa the last two years, but I have never said anything about it to him.
GS: There are some accomplished football players on the hockey team with you. Who would you say are some of the better football players and did you play against them in high school?
MA: I could have played against Zach Budish, but we never ended up facing each other. Joey Miller was a phenomenal running back in high school and I did watch Budish a lot at linebacker when we were preparing for the state tournament. Both were great high school players and two of the better football players on our team.
GS: What do you want to get better at during your time here at Minnesota?
MA: My biggest concern is to be sound defensively. I want to keep improving on that so I can be solid in my own end. Then I would like to produce more points, which has been happening a little bit for me this year. For me it is a balance between being aggressive and being smart. I need to know when to step up at the right time and stay back when I should.
GS: The blueline is really young this year? Have you taken on a leadership role at all?
MA: Yeah, it kind of just happened. I was not planning on it, but with the way guys left last year it left me, Seth Helgeson and Justin Holl as the only returnees who played. I am partners with Ben Marshall and he will ask me a few questions sometimes about what we should do in certain situations or what we can do differently. I try to help him out as much as I can, but I still look up to and learn from Helgeson. But as a defensive core, we all work together really well. We are all still kind of young, but I do feel sometimes that I have taken on a leadership role and try to help the younger guys out.