The No. 1 Gophers will welcome Michigan State to Mariucci Arena this weekend for a two-game set. The series kicks off Minnesota's 12-game stretch against Big Ten opponents to close out the regular season. Select Gopher players and head coach Don Lucia met with the media Wednesday afternoon to discuss the showdown with the Spartans and events of the past couple weeks.
The Gophers took four of a possible six points from the Spartans during a road trip in early December.
"They are a good defensive team. (Goalie Jake Hildebrand) is very good," coach Lucia said. The Spartans dropped a pair of game last weekend to their archrival Michigan.
The last three weeks offered unique quirks with a Monday game, an outdoor game, and a trophy.
"It was pretty crazy. It was a lot of new experiences, even for the guys who have been here for a few years," said forward Travis Boyd. "It was fun, but at the same time it was a little hectic."
This week's return to Mariucci means the Gophers can fall back into a routine. Minnesota recently completed a stretch of four games at four different venues.
"It is good to be at home again. We are looking forward to the Big Ten rivalries picking up again," said defenseman Mike Reilly.
The non-conference portion of the Gophers schedule is now complete with Minnesota posting an 11-2-3 record out of conference. The Gophers will face strictly Big Ten opposition prior to the NCAA postseason.
"(The schedule) is starting to ramp up now," Lucia said. "We have not seen Michigan yet, we have to go to Madison, and we have a very difficult finish at Ohio State and at Michigan."
Minnesota is currently riding a 12-game unbeaten streak -- the longest active unbeaten streak in the nation -- but the players know their recent hockey hasn't been their best.
"We have to give a
ton of credit to Adam Wilcox for this past weekend," Reilly said. "We have to
pick it up (going forward) and start focusing a little bit better."
The Gophers will be forced to play with five defensemen on Friday. Michael Brodzinski will be out a few weeks with a lower-body injury and Ben Marshall must miss out on Friday's action after receiving his third game misconduct of the year in the title tilt of the North Star College Cup. Marshall is eligible to return to the Gopher lineup on Saturday. Tom Serratore also sustained a lower-body injury on Saturday and will be sidelined a few weeks.
Friday's puck drop is at 8 p.m. CT and will be shown live on BTN. Saturday's contest begins at 7 p.m. CT and will be shown live on FSN Plus. Fans can listen to Wally Shaver and Frank Mazzocco call both games this weekend on 1500 ESPN.
-Story by University of Minnesota Communications Intern Josh Brennock