MINNEAPOLIS — With the Minnesota Gophers men's hockey team winless in their last five home games, and their arch-rivals from Wisconsin headed to town this weekend, there is plenty of preparation for the Badgers happening. The Gophers are watching tape, working on concepts on the ice and focusing on their health and nutrition. And they’re resting, strategically.

“Mental health day, rest day. Nothing wrong with throwing that in there once in a while,” Gophers coach Bob Motzko said, after giving the team a day off practice on Tuesday, knowing that Wisconsin, then North Dakota, then a trip to Ohio State fill the schedule before the team breaks for the holidays. “We’ve got a fight these last six games, so rest can be a weapon, everyone knows. This comes at a good time.”

Some professional teams have put such an emphasis on rest that they have gone as far as to employ sleep coaches. The Gophers have their own unofficial sleep coach in Cal Dietz, who has two decades of experience in strength and conditioning work with the program.

While the typical life of a college student often involves late nights, adult beverages and the occasional post-Midnight run for tacos or pizza, Dietz stresses that student-athletes need the discipline to treat their bodies right and get enough rest.

“You want to be a hockey player when you’re at the rink for three hours, but what are you doing for the other 21?” Dietz said, noting that a lack of adequate rest can contribute not just to bad play on the ice, it can make players more susceptible to injury. “Sometimes kids think they’re indestructible, but they’re not. They can function when they’re tired, but it doesn’t mean they’re indestructible...we’ll keep educating them on sleep and how it’s a weapon.”

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Motzko gets reports from Dietz on the players’ physical health, measured using a $20,000 machine that monitors heart rates and a number of other physical factors to determine whether a player is getting enough rest and the right nutrition.

“We are very cognizant of where we’re at. We can’t judge sleep. That’s always one of our biggest concerns for college students, is are they getting enough sleep,” Motzko said. “So we work directly with Cal to get us reports back.”

The players also make sure their schedule allows them to consider their needs in the classroom, on the ice, at the training table, and in their bedrooms to give them the best opportunity for success.

“Our counselors and advisors do a really good job of setting up a well-balanced schedule and a healthy schedule,” Gophers co-captain Tyler Nanne said. “A big weekend like this, it’s really important to get proper rest starting early in the week.”

Future Gophers wearing the stars and stripes

When Team USA hits the ice in Dawson Creek, B.C., for the 2019 World Junior A Challenge, which will be played Dec. 7-15, a trio of future Gophers will be among the 21 skaters in red, white and blue.

Defenseman Michael Koster and forward Rhett Pitlick (whose brother, cousin and father all skated for the Gophers) from Chaska, Minn., and forward Matt Knies of Phoenix have been named to the American team. All three are playing junior hockey in the United States Hockey League this season, with Knies and Koster skating for the Tri-City Storm and Pitlick on the Omaha Lancers roster.

Holiday shopping for hockey tickets

While much of America is out shopping on Black Friday, the Gophers will be preparing to host North Dakota to close out their two-game series. But that does not stop the U of M from getting in on the holiday discounts scene. This week the Gophers ticket office announced early Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales on some tickets for the four remaining Big Ten series on the schedule, against Wisconsin, Ohio State, Michigan State and Michigan.

The Gophers are third in the nation (behind North Dakota and Wisconsin) in college hockey attendance, having sold an average of 8,029 tickets for their seven home games. Over the summer, the school made two notable efforts to increase home attendance, allowing beer and wine sales at the rink, and dropping the price of some season tickets.

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