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Gophers Hockey Notebook: Brady Skjei out a couple weeks & Notre Dame tidbits

News and notes for Minnesota before Friday and Sunday's series against the Fighting Irish.

Junior D Brady Skjei (2) is expected to miss a couple weeks
Junior D Brady Skjei (2) is expected to miss a couple weeks
Matt Christians

Day to day for Brady Skjei has turned into week to week.

Minnesota (5-1-0, 0-0-0-0 Big Ten) is expecting one of its top defensemen Skjei, a junior from Lakeville, MN, to miss a couple weeks, head coach Don Lucia said Wednesday. That includes this weekend's Friday (7:00 p.m. CT) and Sunday (4:00 p.m. CT) series at Mariucci Arena against Notre Dame (5-2-1, 1-0-1 Hockey East).

In addition senior forward Travis Boyd (Washington Capitalsremains out for a month from a lower body injury of his own sustained in Friday's 4-1 road loss to St. Cloud State.

Skjei suffered a right lower body injury in the second period of Saturday's 4-3 overtime win against the Huskies at Mariucci Arena. While he tried to skate the injury off, the Gophers shut him down and played the rest of the game with five defensemen.

Initially, the 2012 New York Rangers first round pick was given a milder diagnosis following Saturday's 4-3 overtime win, however, according to Lucia the earliest Skjei looks to be back would be Thanksgiving.

That timeline would have him miss four games before Minnesota's late November trip to Boston to face Northeastern and Boston College. The Gophers face Notre Dame this weekend at home before a home-and-home series against Minnesota-Duluth November 14-15. The team is then idle from collegiate play for a week, hosting the US Under-18 team in an exhibition November 21.

It's the first major injury as a Gopher for Skjei, who has 3 points (1G-2A) in 6 games this season. He missed a game as a freshman with a minor injury. Last year Skjei played in 40 of Minnesota's 41 games, missing one due to representing Team USA in the 2014 World Junior Championships.


Freshmen getting a chance to step up

Until Skjei and Boyd return, there will be holes for the Gophers to fill.

Lucia almost sees it a positive. Losing both players for a time is a blow, but having it happen now rather than March gives several freshmen a chance to step up with playing time and gain experience.

"It's part of the process. You go through a long season you're going to have periods where you're not going to have everyone available," he said. "Early in the year I almost look at it as a positive from the standpoint that now we're going to have to throw some guys into some different situations and we'll see what they can do."

This time the team has had a week to prepare being without the two upperclassmen. Vinni Lettieri will be given a chance in Boyd's spot centering Connor Reilly and Seth Ambroz.

Justin Kloos, meanwhile, will get the first crack on the power play. He scored a goal there in Boyd's absence, one of three he had against the Huskies Saturday.

"Everyone is going to have to step up," he said. "Every D is going to have to step up their game because Skjei eats up a lot of ice. Same thing with Boyd. Someone is going to have to step up on our penalty kill and someone is going to have to step up on our power play.

"Overall in the locker room everyone is going to have give a little bit of extra effort in practice and in games. We'll be able to recover and we'll be that much better when they get back."

Minnesota has eight defensemen eligible to play on its roster. (A ninth, Nick Seeler, transferred from Nebraska-Omaha and must sit out this season). All eight are NHL Draft picks. Having the 6'3", 211 lbs Skjei on the sidelines means someone like Jake Bischoff (New York Islanders) stepping into his defensive role on the penalty kill.

For the three freshmen - Ryan Collins (Columbus Blue Jackets), Jack Glover (Winnipeg Jets) and Steve Johnson (Los Angeles Kings) - one less scratch means another spot to play. Only Collins so far has played both games in a series.

At the same time, having only seven healthy on the blue line takes away the safety blanket several have had. Without Skjei, the 6'5", 204 lbs Collins was put in more shifts starting in the defensive zone Saturday.

"It's a chance for some of our freshmen defensemen to grow right now being without Brady for the next couple weeks, throw them into the fire," said Lucia.

Lucia vs. Lucia Parts Four and Five

After several false starts, the head coach will finally face his son Mario, a Notre Dame junior forward and second in the nation in goals with 8. Minnesota and Notre Dame both participated at the Ice Breaker in South Bend without playing one another. Six months earlier the same thing happened in St. Paul at the 2014 West Regional.

That's not to say Notre Dame and the Gophers haven't played each other since the two have been in separate places. The Fighting Irish visited Mariucci Arena for a single game in 2011 and 2012. 2013 saw Minnesota go out to Compton Family Ice Arena where the Fighting Irish split a series.

According to Coach Lucia, too much is made out of the father vs. son match-up.

"We're three years into it and it's worked out well for (Mario)," he said. "Our program has moved on and we've still been productive, so it's probably worked out for everybody."

I'll have more on this Thursday or Friday AM and basically doing exactly what Don Lucia suggests the media does.

Road Test

The Fighting Irish enter the series with Minnesota coming off a win and tie against a Vermont team that entered the weekend undefeated. Petersen has a .950 save percentage and head coach Jeff Jackson's team is on a six game unbeaten streak Still, Notre Dame's visit to Minneapolis this weekend will be its first road trip of the season after playing the first eight games of the year inside Compton Family Ice Arena. Ten freshmen will get a taste of the college road life for the first time.

"Hopefully we can use that to our advantage," Lucia said. "You're always more comfortable playing at home. Sometimes there's an adjustment period for a team getting in here."

It's something the Gophers know a little too well. Minnesota committed seven penalties and were undisciplined on the road at St. Cloud en route to the team's first loss. The road atmosphere didn't help, according to Kloos.

"That was our first real away game because in Notre Dame there was no real atmosphere," he said contrasting 5,000 fans to 50. "We were in a hostile environment and I think we kind of let of our emotions get to us a little bit. Definitely a learning experience."

National Exposure

Both games this weekend will be on national television. Friday's game will be on BTN with Fred Pletsch on play-by-play, former Gopher Ben Clymer doing color along with Jamie Hersch.

Sunday afternoon's game is Minnesota's first of 4 ESPN appearances this season. Sportscenter anchor John Buccigross and Barry Melrose have the call of the game, which will be broadcast on ESPNU. It is Buccigross' first appearance at Mariucci not including the 5 times a game this year his goal call of Justin Holl's game-winning goal against North Dakota gets played.

Notre Dame is no stranger to national exposure. The Fighting Irish have every home game broadcast or streamed by NBCSN.

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