In this week's edition of Gophers Meet the Media, we recap the week off and look forward to visiting league-leading St. Cloud State this weekend.
The Gophers were off last weekend for the first time since the holiday break. "Early February is probably the ideal time. It allowed Erik (Haula) to get back to 100% and allowed Adam (Wilcox) to refresh himself," head coach Don Lucia said. Minnesota opted for less practices during their week off with an emphasis on intensity.
This week's opponent, St. Cloud State, sits atop the WCHA standings with 29 points. The Huskies posses some high-end talent that have returned to terrorize the league, "Getting (Drew) LeBlanc back as a fifth-year senior has really helped their team. (Ben) Hanowski is having a very good year, and they have a veteran defense core," Lucia said. With LeBlanc in the fold and the arrival of some impact freshmen the Huskies have been able to increase their scoring depth this season.
Lucia believes this is the best St. Cloud team in recent memory and they are confident. "I think getting seven out of eight points in the stretch with Denver and North Dakota was critical for them," Lucia said. St. Cloud backed those impressive results with a sweep at Bemidji State last weekend.
A trip to St. Cloud means a homecoming for Gopher defenseman Nate Schmidt. "It is a fun environment to play in. It is a hustle environment, which makes for a fun weekend," Schmidt said of the atmosphere the Gophers will be facing. Nate says he will have lots of family in attendance at the National Hockey Center, "Most important is my grandpa will be at the games. He does not really get to leave and likes to watch most of the games on TV, so I am really excited to have him come and watch me this weekend." The team will have dinner at the Schmidt's house Thursday night.
Expect to see the top six forwards reshuffled again this weekend. Haula, having recovered from a hand injury, will be back to his natural center position alongside Sam Warning and Zach Budish. Nate Condon is slated to join Nick Bjugstad and Kyle Rau on the top line.
-By University of Minnesota Communications Student Assistant Josh Brennock