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Gopher Hockey Notebook: Lessons from being swept, Friday's exhibition & more

Minnesota faces the US Under-18 team Friday at Mariucci. The Gophers will be without two USNTDP alums, though.

Matt Christians

Minnesota has had a few days to digest being swept by Minnesota-Duluth. Time, it seems, hasn't healed that wound.

The sweep at the hands of the Bulldogs was still a hot topic Wednesday when the team held media availability. It stung the Gophers although they were able to put aside the frustration to discuss and second guess.

Everyone agreed that last Friday's 3-0 shutout was an unacceptable and embarrassing effort for Minnesota. Saturday's 2-1 loss was slightly better. However, that didn't stop Monday morning being a tough one throughout the team.

One of the largest factors over the weekend was that there was no one to step up on a team whose identity has been built on depth. Gopher head coach Don Lucia talked about getting more from his forwards.

"I think there are some guys that need to contribute a little more from an offensive standpoint than what they have. They are capable of doing it," he said. "Much like last year I don't know if we have a 20 goal guy. If we're going to have the year we want to have, we're going to have to have a lot of guys in that 10 to 15 (goal) range. I think that was one of the strengths of our team last year."

Another thing the Gophers brought up in the post-mortem was the lack of effort early. UMD scored three first-period goals over the two games, but more importantly the Bulldogs out-shot Minnesota a combined 30-12 during that period. (Shot attempts were much worse.) For as much as the team prides itself on hard work and doing things "the Gopher way" last weekend was not that. Instead, players hope it was a lesson to avoiding a repeat.

"Overall, I think they out-competed us. They were on pucks hard. We turned over pucks on both blue lines. We were just struggling overall to get our game going," Connor Reilly said. "They took away time and space and when you take away time and space from anyone it's going to be tough to make plays.

"But I think it comes down to I think they wanted it more. We came in Friday and our effort was just atrocious. Just one of the worst games we had ever been a part of here. Saturday we started to get going a little bit in the second period, but at the end of the day they wanted it more. I'm pretty sure that's not going to happen again the rest of the year."

US Under-18 team team comes to town

For better or worse Minnesota is off this weekend. Kind of. While the 7-3-0 Gophers will play at home Friday, the game is an exhibition against the United States U-18 team. (7:00 p.m. CT - no TV/Radio and streamed on BTN+)

It's a chance for Minnesota to rest while not being idle.

"You kind of take it like you approach any other game. Work hard this week in practice and get all of our systems going," said Sam Warning about how he is taking the game. "I think it's just like every other weekend. You get your legs back, kind of flush your system out, but at the same time they're a good team so we have to come out ready to play."

Minnesota last played the Under-18 team two years ago in a game that ended in a 2-2 tie. Current Boston College goalie Thatcher Demko made 39 saves for the U-18 team. Current Gopher Vinni Lettieri, who normally played for Lincoln (USHL) that season, scored one of the goals while making a a quick weekend of hockey service for his country.

Hudson Fasching (Buffalo Sabres) also played in that game against Minnesota although he had a different experience. Ex-Gopher Tom Serratore knocked Fasching out of the game with a bone-crushing open ice hit.

(By the way here's my recap of that game in October 2012. I'll have Fasching speaking about the Serratore hit and more during the preview Friday.)

Five current Gophers - Travis Boyd (Washington Capitals), Brady Skjei (New York Rangers), Fasching, Jack Glover (Winnipeg Jets) and Ryan Collins (Columbus Blue Jackets) - played for the US Development Program.

A look at the future

A benefit of playing the US Under-18 team is normally seeing a future recruit or two. That's not the case this year.

There are no Gophers or even any Minnesotans on this year's U-18 edition. That isn't stopping Lucia from saying the team features one of the best blue lines in recent memory. He believes there are four or five first round picks on the roster even with Noah Hanifin (Boston College) and Zach Werenski (Michigan) accelerating to college early.

Additionally, top US 2016 prospect Auston Matthews is on the team. Matthews is currently uncommitted to an NCAA school - he's reportedly 50/50 between WHL, where Everett holds his rights, and accelerating to play NCAA - though Minnesota is not recruiting him or on his list. It's still a chance to see the next Jack Eichel.

The lack of Minnesotans isn't a huge deal (although I'd be lying if the USA Hockey-Minnesota Hockey model has not been an interesting fight at times from both camps). The Gophers who chose to play for the program speak highly of their time in Ann Arbor. At the same time, many Minnesotans have from other options too. Many players from non-traditional such as Matthews (an Arizona native) and traditional alike have benefited

"Again, you see the growth of hockey in the United States where some of their players are coming from non-traditional areas and really elite players from non-traditional areas. And I think that's a tribute to the growth of hockey at the NHL level, the grassroots you see, whether it is the West Coast or Texas or Arizona," Lucia said.

Skjei starting to practice, Boyd may be out a little longer.

Lucia confirmed Wednesday that both players are beginning to work their way back into the lineup after suffering lower body injuries against St. Cloud State, but are a ways away from returning.

Skjei began to skate today by himself after practice, per Lucia. The hope is that the junior defenseman will start practicing this week and be ready to play next weekend against Boston College and Northeastern. Right now he's looking closer to returning than Travis Boyd.

(As an aside I didn't realize until now that Skjei will miss both U-18 games after playing in the program.)

Boyd is still not skating or practicing. It doesn't sound like he'll back until December 5-6 against Michigan State at the earliest. More realistically he could start skating a week from Monday, which would be a month after the initial injury.

Minnesota has a month off after that series so Boyd will have plenty of time to recover before the Mariucci Classic on January 2 and 3rd, 2015. That may not be the best news for the senior forward, who would like to get back in action, however, both he and Brady are missed.

"We miss them," said Lucia. "There's no doubt that they are a key penalty killing guys and two older guys who are good at both ends of the rink. But this the opportunity for other guys and for us to see when (Skjei and Boyd) get back who should be in or who should be out."

Everyone else is healthy enough to play. Lettieri returned Saturday after taking a slap shot. Michael Brodzinski (San Jose Sharks), meanwhile, had no ill effects following a knee on knee he took Saturday from UMD's Justin Crandall.

With the game being an exhibition there are no limits as to who Lucia can dress.

Other notes:

-Friday's game will also be Military Appreciation Night. The Gophers have several military themed events planned at Mariucci Arena and all proceeds will benefit Defending the Blue Line.

Minnesota players supported Wednesday by wearing camouflage "M" hats.

-The Gophers have yet to announce its full recruiting class during the early signing period, which ends today. Several recruits have publicly signed letters of intent, including defenseman Jack Sadek (Lakeville North - MNHS), forward Ryan Norman (Shattuck St. Mary's) and goaltender Logan Halladay (Bloomington - USHL)

2014 NHL Draft pick Jack Ramsey (Chicago Blackhawks) signed a LOI last year. Ramsey, a 6'3", 191 lbs forward and son of Miracle on Ice member Mike Ramsey, is spending his second year with Penticton (BCHL). He has 16 points (6G-10A) in 23 games.

-Ryan Collins on the adjustment to college: "It's going well. Like I said I got to play against some college teams last year. I think it's a lot different this year because you have to play the way the Gophers want you to play and they expect more out of you than maybe I did last year. So making that adjustment is difficult, but it's coming along."

-I wrote about Leon Bristedt on Wednesday. If you got this far and haven't read about the Swedish freshman's adjustment, go read it. Then pat yourself on your back for me. I know I wrote a lot here in this "meaty" blog (to borrow a phrase from Michael Russo of the Minneapolis Star Tribune).

-Hope to have a piece on Minnesota's reaction to Arizona State joining tomorrow and a couple Gopher and Big Ten pieces for Friday. That's the plan at least. Simply put everyone was excited for the Sun Devils. Connor Reilly was not the only one who would be open to playing there in the winter, saying "That would be amazing."


Nathan Wells is a college hockey columnist for SB Nation. You can also follow him on Twitter --