Myers: Gophers hoping trip to Anchorage sparks more dominant play
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MINNEAPOLIS - With just a 1-2 record away from home this season, Gophers hockey coach Don Lucia doesn't need any added distractions this weekend when his team makes the extra-long trip to Anchorage for a pair of WCHA games.
Thankfully, family won't get in the way.
"They're not going to be there. They left this morning," said Lucia, on Wednesday, referring to his in-laws, who are Alaska residents, but head to Arizona in the winter.
"I don't know what that says about me," he added, with a grin.
Lucia's formative coaching years, during much of the 1980s, were spent first as an assistant coach at the University of Alaska, in Fairbanks, then two seasons as an assistant at Alaska Anchorage, then six more as the head coach at Alaska. Along the way he met an Alaska girl, got married and had four children in the Last Frontier, before heading south, first to Colorado College and eventually to the U.
While the Gophers may travel there sporadically in the future, when they no longer share a conference with the Seawolves, the coach admitted that this will be their last WCHA trip there, and likely their last trip outside the "Lower 48" for a while. But with the team underachieving, at least by their lofty standards, winning just two of the first four conference games, some players think a long, long trip away from home might just be the experience they need right now.
"I think this will be a good little bonding trip for us," said defenseman Nate Schmidt. "This will be a nice time for us to get away and just be around the guys for a weekend. That's what's most important to us now."
Coach and players admitted there were a few hard practices this week, as the team looks to get away from the turnovers that have plagued them in losses to Michigan Tech and Minnesota State. And unlike previous Anchorage teams that have used their size and played a clogging game, they expect more of an aggressive "pressure hockey" challenge from these Seawolves.
"We're playing with a little more speed and skill on the top end," Alaska Anchorage coach Dave Shyiak said. His team upset the Gophers in the 2011 WCHA playoffs, and lost four times versus the Gophers last season - twice in Anchorage and twice at Mariucci Arena in the playoffs.
"We've played them so much over the last two or three years, we know what they're about and they know what we're about," Shyiak said.
Lucia said his time in Alaska, and getting to know the civic rivalries between Fairbanks and Anchorage, was great fun. Most importantly, with four WCHA points available, he wants his last hockey memories of the state, for now, to be good ones. He's looking forward to seeing some old friends as well as the hockey, but will miss the traditional postgame dinner with family on Saturday night.
"There are a few people to see, but with all the (relatives) gone I don't have to get out my credit card on Saturday night," Lucia said.
Butters out at reeling Wisconsin
After spending seemingly his entire life playing and coaching hockey in Minnesota, Bill Butters turned a few heads two summers ago when he took an assistant coaching job at Wisconsin, running the Badgers defense for head coach Mike Eaves.
An enforcer for the Gophers, then in the WHA and NHL, Butters was an assistant coach for Doug Woog for several years and was as hard-core maroon and gold as they come. But upon arrival in Madison, he joked that he'd gone to the doctor and discovered that his blood was indeed red.
On Wednesday the school released a statement announcing Butters was resigning, effective immediately, and that Eaves would spend the Badgers' bye weekend searching for a replacement. Many have speculated that Wisconsin's rocky 1-4-1 start played a role in the abrupt change. Butters, who for years worked as a chaplain for Hockey Ministries International, told the Wisconsin State Journal that it was his decision, and he felt an urge to pursue his calling as a minister.
"He has decided that it is in his best interest to return home to Minnesota to be with his family and pursue other passions in his life," Eaves said in a statement. "Bill is a great friend and a good hockey man."
Picked for an upper-half finish in the WCHA, last weekend the Badgers surrendered eight goals en route to being swept at home by Colorado College and had just 8,600 tickets sold for their 15,000-seat building on Friday. Adding injury to that insult, Wisconsin's best forward Mark Zengerle was lost for four to six weeks with a broken finger after blocking a Tigers shots.
The Badgers visit Mariucci Arena for a pair of games Nov. 16-17.
Good shooting by Schmidt
From his post on the Gophers' blue line, defenseman Nate Schmidt ignited the Mariucci last Friday, blasting a slap shot from the point that found the back of the Minnesota State net. Schmidt's second goal of the season, on the power play, tied the game 2-2 en route to a 3-2 win.
Less than 48 hours later, another shot by Schmidt brought him success in one of Minnesota's other great sporting passions. Hunting deer on Sunday near his hometown of St. Cloud, Schmidt bagged one that was far from a trophy, but will provide some venison for the winter.
"It did get to go out Sunday and got a two-year-old doe. It was not too special. But at least I got one, so I was excited," Schmidt said, caving in to reporters who grilled him on how he knew the animal's age. "It was a little bit bigger than a fawn. It probably was a fawn. It just sounds so much better to call it a two-year-old doe."
Schmidt said it was close to sunset when the doe appeared behind a tree line. The trees and the spreading darkness prevented him from seeing a seven-point buck that was nearby. Schmidt only saw the bigger deer when it bolted away after he'd felled the doe.
According to estimates from the Minnesota DNR, Schmidt's deer was one of about 70,000 harvested statewide during the opening weekend of the 2012 firearms season. That numbers is down from previous years due to a variety of factors.