The University of Minnesota men’s hockey team had a big weekend on campus. They earned a big win versus one of their toughest opponents: rest.
A well timed bye weekend on the team’s schedule could not have come at a better time.
The nation’s No. 1 team has been banged up and with the playoffs just over a month away the Gophers must take advantage of the time off and regroup.
The two biggest winners from the free pass are junior forward Erik Haula and freshmen goaltender Adam Wilcox.
Haula has been battling a hand injury since December and after putting up a gutty performance against North Dakota a couple weeks ago and helping to lead Minnesota to a split with Minnesota State-Mankato last weekend, the star skater for Don Lucia’s Gophers should be resting easy.
The Pori, Finland native leads Minnesota in scoring with 31 points and is one of only two players averaging more than a point per game for Minnesota.
The other is sophomore forward Kyle Rau, who is second in points for the Gophers with 28 and is probably still feeling the affects of the hard-hitting UND series at Mariucci Arena himself.
Wilcox has been the MVP for the Maroon and Gold this season and his impressive play between the pipes in his first season with the club has been a difference maker.
Having started all but just two games for the team this season, Wilcox hopefully hasn’t left his bed in a week and should be well rested for a tough couple weeks on the road.
The Gophers head to the National Hockey Center in St. Cloud, Minn. for a two-game series versus St. Cloud State University this coming weekend. The Huskies lead the WCHA standings with 29 points in 20 games played.
Minnesota trails SCSU by five points and is in a third place tie with Denver and North Dakota with 24 points. Even if the Gophers sweep the Huskies, they will still trail in the standings.
Every team in the WCHA has played two more conference games than Minnesota, except Alaska Anchorage, who has played four more than Minnesota.
This puts Minnesota in prime position to come out of this bye weekend and make a dash for the top of the standings.
After the series against SCSU, the Gophers travel to Madison, Wis. and Chicago, Ill. The series against the Badgers should be exciting as they take on rival Wisconsin on Feb. 15 at the Kohl Center.
Then the two will finish up the series at Soldier Field in Chicago on Feb. 17 as part of the Hockey City Classic doubleheader.
Notre Dame and Miami (Ohio) will face-off at 12:00 p.m. CT and Minnesota will take on Wisconsin at 3:30 p.m. CT in the outdoor event.
This will be the first outdoor hockey game for the Gophers in the modern era. Wisconsin has played multiple outdoor games over the last handful of years at both Lambeau Field and Camp Randall.
It should be a great couple weeks for Minnesota away from home. In the final year of the WCHA, it will be stretch runs like this to close out the year that Gopher fans will miss out on in the Big Ten next season.
The sweep this weekend for the Golden Gophers over rest won’t show up in the WCHA standings, but expect a refueled and refreshed Minnesota team to make a run at the MacNaughton Cup.