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Men's hockey: Gophers with lots to prove

MINNEAPOLIS -- Soon, it will be known whether the Minnesota men's hockey team has truly turned around another disappointing season. The 6-1 record in the last seven games suggests that the team with 20 NHL draft picks has finally found its game a...

MINNEAPOLIS -- Soon, it will be known whether the Minnesota men's hockey team has truly turned around another disappointing season.

The 6-1 record in the last seven games suggests that the team with 20 NHL draft picks has finally found its game and will roll to the postseason. But those wins came against 11-11-2 Minnesota State-Mankato, 3-18-1 Michigan Tech, 3-17-2 Bowling Green and 3-10-2 Harvard.

Minnesota, barely over the .500 mark at 11-10-1, holds a 3-9-1 record against teams with winning records. That will need to drastically improve if the Gophers want to be playing in the NCAA tournament in March.

There are seven weeks left in the regular season and Minnesota will spend six of them playing teams ranked in the top 11 in the Pairwise Rankings. That portion of the schedule starts this weekend against rival UND (7:07 tonight, 7:07 p.m. Saturday) in Mariucci Arena.

The Gophers need to move up at least 12 spots from their No. 25 Pairwise position to get an at-large bid into the NCAAs, but will have to play St. Cloud State, Denver, Colorado College, Minnesota-Duluth and Wisconsin to close the season.

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"I'm looking forward to it," Minnesota coach Don Lucia said. "It should be a good test.

"We're playing better. We've improved as a team. We're learning what we have to do in order to be successful. We don't have a large margin for error each week because we're not a high-scoring team."

The Gophers haven't found any area to hang their hats on. They are eighth in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association in offense, eighth in defense, eighth in power play, eighth in penalty kill, ninth in defenseman scoring and goalie Alex Kangas ranks ninth in both goals-against average and save percentage.

Minnesota doesn't have any scorer ranked in the top 22 in the conference and for the first time this decade, they don't have any clear-cut all-WCHA players.

For UND, that doesn't matter.

"They are a good skating team and they are on a pretty good roll right now," UND coach Dave Hakstol said. "Anytime you go on the road in the WCHA and play a team that's playing well, it's a big challenge. It's a tough task going into Mariucci and taking points. You have to rise to the occasion. You have to elevate your play to get points in the second half in the WCHA."

World Junior players handled the same

UND's Danny Kristo and Minnesota's Jordan Schroeder returned about a week ago from a grueling World Junior Championship in Saskatoon, Sask., where they played seven games in about two weeks for the gold-medal Americans.

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Both of the dynamic forwards played in their teams' games last weekend, had Sunday and Monday off and returned to regular practice Tuesday.

"It'll be an ongoing thing," Hakstol said. "We'll try to allow the proper rest and recuperation time. We're not going to be able to make up the seven days of rest that the other guys had while he was playing seven games, but I think slowly, we'll make sure he gets a little extra time away from the rink, which will be important both physically and mentally."

Kristo, a freshman, is the fourth-leading scorer for UND with 17 points in 20 games. He has five more points than Minnesota's entire freshman class combined.

Schroeder, a sophomore, is Minnesota's third-leading scorer with 15 points in 20 games.

"Jordan's been through this a couple of times," Lucia said of Schroeder, who has played in three World Juniors. "It seems like he has real good energy right now. He doesn't look tired."

Lucia praises Genoway

Minnesota opened the season in Ralph Engelstad Arena with a loss and a tie to UND. Sioux captain Chay Genoway scored three goals in that series.

Lucia says he hasn't seen a better player since.

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"He was the best player I saw in the league," Lucia said.

Genoway won't be playing this weekend, though. He's missed the last 13 games with post-concussion syndrome and there's no return in sight. Lucia said he was asked earlier this week if Genoway would play. Lucia responded, "No."

"That's good," the other person said.

Lucia responded: "No, it's not. I wish he were playing. It's good for the fans and everyone involved. You want the best players playing."

Fink opens recruitment; White to Vermont

Hopkins, Minn., native Mike Fink, who committed to UND two-and-a-half years ago, has re-opened his recruiting.

Fink said he decommitted from UND earlier this week.

"North Dakota wants me to play another year (of juniors) and I want to try to go college next year and I want to go somewhere I'll play a lot," Fink said. "It's obviously nothing against UND. I realized I probably wouldn't get the playing time I needed or wanted there and I need to do what's best for me."

Fink current plays for the Des Moines Buccaneers in the United States Hockey League. He has two goals, 13 assists and 15 points in 30 games this season. Fink graduated from high school in the spring of 2009.

Former UND recruit Matt White, who left the USHL this fall while pondering his future in hockey, has now committed to Vermont.

White played for Des Moines a year ago. He was traded in the offseason to Lincoln, but decided he wanted to go back home to the Pittsburgh area instead. Once there, White decided to play hockey again with the Pittsburgh Vipers AAA midget major team.

During the summer, White was projected as a mid-round draft pick in the upcoming draft but was not ranked by the NHL's Central Scouting Bureau in the midterm rankings.

Briefly

The Star Tribune said that nine former Gopher players were polled during a booster lunch about whether UND or Wisconsin is Minnesota's biggest rival. Six voted for the Sioux, three for Wisconsin. . . Bowling Green transfer Jake Cepis became eligible after Christmas break. He has three points in four games for Minnesota. "He's got a real high skill level," Lucia said. "He can make plays in real tight areas and he can turn on a dime."

Reach Schlossman at (701) 780-1129; (800) 477-6572, ext. 129; or send e-mail to bschlossman@gfherald.com .

Schlossman has covered college hockey for the Grand Forks Herald since 2005. He has been recognized by the Associated Press Sports Editors as the top beat writer for the Herald's circulation division four times and the North Dakota sportswriter of the year once. He resides in Grand Forks. Reach him at bschlossman@gfherald.com.
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