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Updated: March 8th, 2013 12:10am
Notebook: Gophers hockey team responded to unusual tongue-lashing

Notebook: Gophers hockey team responded to unusual tongue-lashing

by Jess Myers
1500ESPN.com
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MINNEAPOLIS -- The media hasn't been allowed inside the Gophers hockey locker room for years, but it's reportedly a pretty peaceful place, most of the time.

With the Gophers normally one of the nation's better teams on their home ice -- they're 14-3-3 at Mariucci Arena this season -- occasions when it gets loud and unfriendly inside the room are rare. But when voices are raised, the Gophers pay attention.

Such was the case late Friday night and again Saturday morning, after the "U" played perhaps its worst, and definitely its ugliest, game of the season.

In the 2-0 loss to Denver, the Gophers' power play was out-shot 8-2. That stat alone had Gophers coach Don Lucia and assistant Mike Guentzel fuming after the game and again 12 hours later or so when they went over video with the team.

"I've been here for three years, but still, it was bad," junior wing Justin Holl said. "That was definitely a wakeup call for us. They were not happy, and rightfully so."

There were hints the tandem of Lucia and Guentzel play a mild form of "good cop, bad cop," with the assistant playing the more fiery role when it's warranted. Lucia stressed to the media that such outbursts are rare, and apparently, they work.

"You can pick and choose a couple times a year when you can have a little tirade. But that's it," Lucia said. "I'm sure in the back room they got a little chuckle out of it. Maybe not at the time, but they heard it, and the good thing is they took it to heart and responded on Saturday."

Veteran players confirmed that raised voices don't happen often, which made them all the more attention-getting.

"In my four years, I can probably count on one hand the number of times that Don has gotten up and yelled at us," captain Zach Budish said. "He sent a message to us Friday after the game and again Saturday morning. We should be able to motivate ourselves. We shouldn't need the coach to get up our rear ends."

The Gophers stormed back for a 5-1 win in the immediate aftermath of the verbal eruption.

"If we can play like we did on Saturday in every game from here on out, I'll take it," Lucia said.

Life in the slow lane this weekend

It's been said life moves at a slower pace in small-town Minnesota. The same can be said for hockey at Bemidji State, where the Beavers acknowledge they don't have the talent the Gophers can put on the ice, but counter that with a slow-down game designed to frustrate opponents.

It's a style of sport that Gophers forward Nate Condon has seen before, on the hardwood in his home state.

"I guess if you want to compare it to Wisconsin basketball, you can," Condon said. "They just chip puck out into the neutral zone and chip it everywhere pretty much. If you can get the right bounces, it works. It's really frustrating for us, because we want to play a possession game. We just have to play patient and adjust our style to match it."

Beavers coach Tom Serratore -- uncle of the Gophers forward with the same name -- spent part of his weekly press conference rattling off the names of talented players from the "U" and acknowledging they'd have some work to do to keep up with their guests.

"The biggest thing is they have a lot of offense. They've got a lot more offensive depth. They've got a lot of weapons and they're a great hockey team," Serratore said

He added that with the way the playoff schedule may work out, there's a very real possibility that the Beavers will visit Mariucci Arena in a week for the opening round of the WCHA post-season.

"This could be a three-out-of-five series," Serratore said. "That's the way you've got to look at it."

Lucia spent this week of practice stressing patience and not letting the Beavers' defensive ways lead to frustration and over-aggression on the ice.

"It's certainly going to get us ready for the playoffs," Lucia said. "The most important thing for us is that we have to be patient. Bemidji's a team that's going to chip it off the glass and wrap it around the boards. They can catch you if you're getting too aggressive."

The Beavers enter the weekend sitting 11th in the 12-team WCHA with a 6-18-8 overall record.

NCHC officials meet Minneapolis

The new National Collegiate Hockey Conference - home of North Dakota, St. Cloud State and Minnesota-Duluth starting next season - has offices in Colorado Springs, but they're quickly making Minnesota's most populous city their second home.

On Thursday, officials from the eight-team league, along with representatives from North Dakota and St. Cloud State, unveiled their official logo and the launch of the conference's new website at Minneapolis City Hall, along with mayor R.T. Rybak and members of the city council.

The NCHC has signed a five-year agreement to host their postseason tournament at Target Center starting a year from now.

"Everybody is pretty excited about having us come in," said Joe Novak, the NCHC's hockey operations director. "The coaches and administrators all felt very strongly that they wanted us to be in Minneapolis."

With thousands of North Dakota fans coming to St. Paul for the WCHA tournament each year, Minneapolis tourism officials no doubt see hotel, restaurant and bar dollars flowing into downtown from the west each March with the NCHC coming to town.

Novak noted that the league asked Target Center for improvements to the ice surface, the boards, the glass and the locker room area, and to this point, the arena has met their requests.

With the Big Ten's post-season tourney rotating between Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul and Detroit's Joe Louis Arena, there will be many years with two college tournaments in the Twin Cities on the same weekend. The NCHC and the Big Ten both have booths promoting their leagues at the Let's Play Hockey Expo which runs in conjunction with the State Hockey Tournament this weekend.

Denver, Colorado College, Miami (Ohio), Nebraska-Omaha and Western Michigan are the NCHC's other teams.

'New' WCHA schedule announced

Bemidji State and Alabama-Huntsville had an intense rivalry roughly 20 years ago, when they were the nation's top two Division II teams.

They'll be conference rivals next season in the new 10-team WCHA and will meet in Dixie for the conference's opening weekend on Friday, Oct. 25.

The Beavers and Minnesota State will be the two local teams in the new 10-team conference, which is a merger of the CCHA and WCHA teams after the departures to the Big Ten and NCHC were complete. Alaska, Alaska-Anchorage, Bowling Green, Ferris State, Lake Superior State, Michigan Tech and Northern Michigan are the others.

Membership in the new league is a program-saver for Alabama-Huntsville, which played an independent schedule this season and had just two home games versus D-I competition. Coached by Grand Rapids, Minn., native Kurt Kleinendorst, the Chargers were 3-21-1 this season but expect to be able to recruit more talent starting next season, with 14 conference home games on their slate.

Details of the WCHA post-season tournament, which has been held in the Twin Cities every March since 1999, have not been announced yet, but many expect it to rotate between St. Paul and Grand Rapids, Mich., every other year.

Jess Myers covers the Wild and college hockey for 1500ESPN.com. He is a member of the editorial advisory board for USA Hockey Magazine.
Email Jess | @JessRMyers
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