Minnesota faces some instate, former WCHA rivals
NOV 20, 2013 2:59p ET
After a home series last weekend against Minnesota State, the Gophers now prepare to host Minnesota Duluth this weekend. Then it’s Wisconsin coming to town next Friday and Saturday. Three weekends, three teams formerly in the WCHA.
Of course, the Gophers and Badgers are now in the Big Ten Conference, but these three weeks elicit a bit of nostalgia for college hockey fans who already miss Minnesota’s old conference.
“In many ways, it will still feel like we’re playing WCHA teams because they’re teams we play each and every year,” said Gophers coach Don Lucia.
This weekend’s games against Minnesota Duluth will also help the Gophers carry on another in-state rivalry. The Gophers already played Bemidji State and Minnesota State, and they have a game scheduled against St. Cloud State later this year in the North Star College Cup. But the games between the Gophers and Bulldogs seem to be a part of Minnesota’s more underrated rivalries.
Sure, there are the natural rivals of Wisconsin and North Dakota. However, Minnesota and UMD have established a solid rivalry of their own over the years, bolstered by the fact that the Bulldogs won a national championship in 2011.
“I think any time you play your in-state teams, there’s a rivalry involved,” Lucia said. “That’s something we talk about when the year begins. We want to have success in our own state. We feel good winning the first four (against Bemidji State and Minnesota State).”
Since leaving the WCHA after last season, Minnesota Duluth has joined the new National Collegiate Hockey Conference, along with many other holdovers from the WCHA. Through 10 games, the Bulldogs are 5-4-1 overall and 2-2 in conference play.
Minnesota Duluth does have a few impressive wins on its resume so far, including one over North Dakota and a 4-1 victory over Notre Dame -- one Lucia saw in person a few weeks ago as he was there to watch his son, Mario, play for the Irish.
“It’s always been a rivalry with Duluth,” said Gophers junior Seth Ambroz. “Obviously, yeah, sometimes it does get (overlooked) when we play Wisconsin and North Dakota, those types of teams. But it’s a big instate rivalry. … They’re always ready to play us. We’re always ready to play them. It should be a good series. They always give us their best, so it should be fun to watch.”
No goalie controversy for Minnesota: Senior goalie Michael Shibrowski made his first start in over a year last Saturday and earned a shutout in the Gophers’ 3-0 win over the Mavericks. Despite his solid outing, there’s no question that sophomore Adam Wilcox will resume his role as the team’s everyday goalie this weekend.
“I’ll tell you what, it’s nice to have Mike come in and play as well as he did,” Lucia said. “It gives his teammates confidence, his coaches confidence. … We don’t need him to play every night, but he needs to play a handful of games this year. He did a great job in his first one.”
Shibrowski stopped all 25 shots he faced to earn his first career shutout. After the game, his teammates surrounded him at the net, clearly happy for their senior goalie who doesn’t get many chances to play.
Even several days later, it was clear that Shibrowski’s teammates have plenty of respect for him.
“He’s probably our ultimate team guy,” Ambroz said. “He’s always working. He deserved it. He deserved a chance, and he got it. It’s great to see. A lot of people don’t even see Shibrowski as much, obviously with Wilcox in net, but he’s just such a good goaltender, too. It’s nice to have two reliable goalies. He deserved his outcome.”
Men’s team in awe of women’s hockey team’s streak: The Gophers women’s hockey team recently had a record-setting 62-game winning streak snapped this past weekend in a loss to North Dakota. That type of run is something the men’s team has trouble fathoming.
“That almost doesn’t seem realistic,” Ambroz said. “It’s impressive. Sixty-two wins in a row, they (had) girls on the team that (hadn’t) lost a game yet. That’s incredible. It’s good for them and good for their program. I’m sure they’ll start another streak right now and go from there. That’s got to be one fun thing to be a part of.”
The women’s team, led by head coach Brad Frost, plays their games at Ridder Arena, which is right next door to Mariucci Arena, home of the men’s team. For the last several weeks, the University of Minnesota has boasted the top-ranked teams in both men’s and women’s hockey.
Lucia’s squad has insisted it doesn’t put too much stock into the rankings, especially this early in the season But having two No. 1 teams on campus has been a boost for Minnesota’s hockey programs -- and their fans.
“I always give Brad grief because we’re the second-best team on campus for hockey,” Lucia said. “They’ve had a great run. It’s good for everybody. It’s good when women’s hockey does well. It’s good when the football team’s winning. The more success every athletic team can have on our campus, the better it is for everybody.”
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