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Gopher Hockey Notebook: Badgers deja vu, Wilcox making 100th appearance & more

For the second time in three weeks Minnesota faces Wisconsin.

Minnesota goaltender Adam Wilcox (32) likely will make his 100th appearance this weekend
Minnesota goaltender Adam Wilcox (32) likely will make his 100th appearance this weekend
Matt Christians

Last week is over. This week is what matters.

That was the message and attitude coming out of Minnesota's weekend at the North Star College Cup and continues as the University of Minnesota returns to Big Ten play for the rest of the season.

"Attitude becomes really important when you have a disappointment," said head coach Don Lucia. "But it really doesn't change when Monday rolls around whether you win or lose. You have to have a good week of preparation and keep moving forward."

The coaching staff has stayed positive with their words off the ice and tried to get the players to do the same throughout the Gophers' struggles, which has seen the team win just 4 of the last 14 games In that time the team has dropped out of an NCAA Tournament at-large bid and  college hockey rankings.

The latest, where Minnesota (11-9-2, 2-2-2-0 Big Ten) lost 4-2 to then-#1 Minnesota State and #7 Minnesota-Duluth 2-1 after tying the game, ended with senior Ben Marshall saying that he wanted to forget the entire weekend.

Although he and the rest of the team have had a couple days to decompress from being "pissed off and angry," he's sticking to that plan and worrying about traveling to Madison to face Wisconsin for two games this weekend.

"We obviously have a lot of things that we could be negative about, but that's obviously going to make things work. You have to be positive in times like these when things don't go your way," a more upbeat Marshall said. "Hopefully that will boost us to play better."

So far the coaches' words are keeping the mood upbeat this week following a month stretch where the Gophers have been struggling to hold leads.

The mental side of playing sports is a weird subject to approach. (Although with today being Bell Media's "Let's Talk" Day in Canada to erase the stigma of mental illness it feels like a good day to discuss.) It's hard to contrast with the physical side where results are shown yet it doesn't always get the same attention.

Plus as assistant coach Grant Potulny mentioned a few weeks ago for my feature on Connor Reilly, there are plenty of coaches for everything except the most important muscle.

When asked about what was bothering the team more, junior defenseman Brady Skjei pointed out the power of mental mistakes and having confidence.

"I'd say more mental. I think just when we make mistakes they seem to be really big right now and they tend to hurt us. Physically I think we have a lot of skill and a lot of guys can play. The mental mistakes are hurting us right now and we need to limit those for sure," he said.

"Mistakes happen all the time in a game.  Just right now it seems that the mistakes we make are amplified and usually end up in goals. We have to limit those and get back on track."

Some positive thoughts (or) Taking a page from Michigan

The season isn't over by any stretch of the imagination. Minnesota, 2-2-2-0 in Big Ten play, does have 8 of the remaining 14 games at home. Avoiding bad losses is key. If there's an example the fourth-place Gophers (albeit with games in hand) want to look at it would be Big Ten-leading Wolverines (7-1-0-0).

On an 8 game win streak, Michigan has gone from 27th to 12th in the Pairwise since December 28th. Only 3 of those games featured teams in the Pairwise top 20. However, it's harder to move up that far as the season continues.

"There's a lot of hockey to be played," senior captain Kyle Rau said. "We have a pretty favorable schedule with a lot of home games. That being said, we know we have to start winning games. We can't keep losing."

Even Strength Struggles

Minnesota's high-end power play went 1 for 7 last weekend yet was not the least of the problems. Of the three goals, one was also scored on a delayed penalty meaning only one was scored at even strength.

Getting consistency there and in scoring - the team has yet to win a game this season when it scores less than 3 goals - is a work in progress over the final 14 regular season games.

"It seems that we either get 4 or 5 (goals) or we either get 1 or 2. Hopefully we can get to 3 or above the rest of the way," Lucia said.

He added, "It's still okay to win a 2-1 game too. We haven't been able to win a 2-1 game this year."

Against Wisconsin two weeks ago the Gophers unveiled new lines with all the established pairings broken apart. Those were successful from a shot and puck possession perspective. Minnesota put up 99 shots and controlled play at home yet were only able to take 4 of 6 points with a win and a tie.

Last weekend Minnesota went back to "conventional" lines Friday without Vinni Lettieri, who was serving a one-game suspension. Rau and Hudson Fasching were reunited, as was Justin Kloos and Taylor Cammarata, and Travis Boyd and Seth Ambroz. (On defense Skjei and Mike Reilly were together, lasting all of one game.) He used the new lines on Saturday when Lettieri returned.

At the same time Lucia was tinkering with the lines during Saturday's game against the Bulldogs. Taylor Cammarata and Leon Bristedt switched places on the 3rd and 4th lines. Other points the bench was shortened.

"It's been inconsistent all year long so we've been moving guys around almost on a weekly basis," said Lucia, mentioning factors such as injuries, World Juniors and more for reasons. "We'll continue to sort them."

Other Notes:

-The Gophers remain injury-free this week although the status of freshman defenseman Ryan Collins will be decided for this weekend after practice Wednesday. Collins didn't practice last week and has missed 3 of the last 5 games with an illness, including both this past weekend.

"He just didn't have great energy on Friday and Saturday night," Lucia said about Collins

-Unless something unexpected happens, Adam Wilcox will play in his 100th career game for Minnesota this weekend. The junior goaltender continues to be a workhorse for the Gophers. Wilcox, who is second all-time in shutouts with 10, has played all but 5 games in his career.

Like the rest of the team recently, the South St. Paul, MN is not impervious to having some struggles. Since January 2nd, Wilcox has a .865% save percentage. He was pulled for the first time all year against Michigan and gave up the go-ahead goal Saturday on Minnesota-Duluth's first  and only real shot of the period. Giving up 2.51 goals against average on the year is a half-goal more than either his freshman or sophomore year.

But he's still a year removed from being a finalist for the Mike Richter Award and having a .932 save percentage. Wilcox has been a constant the Gophers have needed the last 2.5 seasons.

-Marshall on playing at Kohl Center: "I love playing at the Kohl. You see a lot of people, their fans are pretty crazy out there. It's always fun when they get a good crowd and definitely on the road it motivates you."

-Last but not least: What happened the last two times these teams played


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