January 23, 2009 PRINT Bookmark and Share

Feeling Good Again

Rejuvenated Minnesota Coach Leads Rejuvenated Team

by Joshua Berhow/CHN Writer

It didn’t take long for Minnesota to realize something was wrong when it walked out of Ralph Engelstad Arena a few Saturday’s ago.

The Gophers were just embarrassed 6-1 in Grand Forks, N.D., – after losing the previous night 6-3 – without Ryan Stoa, without David Fischer and without their head coach Don Lucia.

“We were pretty much embarrassed up there, but we knew that it’s a long season and there are speed bumps along the way,” said sophomore forward Mike Hoeffel. “Things like that are going to happen and we learned our lesson.”

It looked as if the Gophers learned their lesson, as they came back the following week to sweep St. Cloud State in a home-and-home series. Friday night’s game was Lucia’s first behind the Gophers bench after missing the team’s previous four games due to medical reasons.

Stoa was back for the series with the Huskies, picking up two goals and two assists Saturday night. Fischer, however, wasn’t back for the series, and is still questionable for next weekend’s games.

And with their coach of 10 years back on the bench, the Gophers gave him plenty to be happy about on his return, edging the Huskies 5-1 Friday in Mariucci Arena and 8-6 Saturday at the National Hockey Center.

“Sometimes when you get your rear end kicked, that can be a good focal point,” Lucia said. “[I told them after the series] if you want to make emends for UND, you have to sweep St. Cloud.”

Just six days after getting swept by the Sioux, the Gophers found more life in the first 1:04 of Friday’s game at Mariucci than they had all weekend in Grand Forks, N.D. And with their coach back on the bench, they came out with what seemed like a different attitude and mindset in Friday’s game against the Huskies in front of their home crowd.

“It’s a good feeling having him back there again,” said Hoeffel, who had three goals and four points against the Huskies. “We’re one big family here and it was good to have him back and have him back leading the team.”

Just 1:04 into Friday’s first period Hoeffel gave the Gophers a 1-0 lead on a breakaway goal, scoring what would be Minnesota’s first of 13 goals in the series.

“It was a big goal to start the game,” Lucia said. “Mike obviously had a great weekend. We needed secondary scoring and we had that last weekend. We had a really good week of practice heading into the game, and the guys had good jump and I think what we did Monday through Thursday helped us Friday and Saturday.”

With less than two months remaining on the schedule, and neutral this weekend, the Gophers are looking to use their embarrassing weekend against the Sioux as a reminder for the rest of the season of what could happen at any time.

“Especially since it was a team like North Dakota – our arch-rival – so it’s definitely something we’ll remember and use as motivation for the future when we play them or other teams,” Hoeffel said. “It’s something we don’t want to happen again.”

The Gophers will get back to practice this weekend, with a home-and-home series on the docket against Minnesota State for next weekend.

“It’s nice to have a week or rest,” Hoeffel said. “It’s a long, grinding season and a couple days off of going to the rink are nice to recharge the batteries a bit. And when things start back up for practice to prepare for Mankato we’re going to be ready and come to the rink with the mindset that we have business to take care of.”

And with 12 conference games remaining, the Gophers have plenty of business to take care of, with or without their coach. Minnesota, however, is hoping it’s with.

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