No motivational speeches required as Gophers host Wisconsin to close first-half schedule
Back home again after six consecutive road games, the Minnesota Gophers are playing penalty-free hockey as they face a Wisconsin Badgers team that started the season slowly but has won five of six.
MINNEAPOLIS — Amid all of the impressive renovations at Munn Ice Arena that the Minnesota Gophers got to see last weekend, there is one part of the rink they didn’t visit while getting a sweep at Michigan State. The penalty box.
It has been more than three full games since a Gopher has spend two minutes or less in solitary confinement, although coach Bob Motzko gave a sly smile when asked about his team’s run of more than 200 minutes without a minor, noting that midway through the Black Friday win at Arizona State was the last time they’ve been called for a penalty, but not necessarily the last time they’ve committed a penalty.
“Our team is normally pretty disciplined. We’re striving for that,” Motzko said following the team’s Wednesday practice, back on the big ice sheet of 3M Arena at Mariucci after six consecutive road games. “It’s simple: play with your stick down, take short shifts and wrap your arms when you get someone from behind. If you do that, you’re going to be in a good spot. I like that trend.”
Still, it’s not like the team has stopped practicing special teams, knowing that the intensity, and the whistles, but very well ramp up with conference archrival Wisconsin visiting the Twin Cities this weekend for the final series both teams will play before Christmas.
Wisconsin got off to a rough 0-6-0 start in Big Ten play, but has gained some confidence recently, sweeping a pair of nonconference series and splitting with Michigan last weekend in Madison. Badgers coach Tony Granato admitted that no matter where the teams are in the standings, you generally don’t need to do much motivational speaking before a Border Battle game.
“Minnesota versus Wisconsin, we could play them on Lake Mendota and it would be the same type of environment and same type of meaning for both teams,” Granato said, referencing the body of water on the north side of the UW campus. “We’ve always been excited when we play Minnesota. So it really doesn’t matter standing-wise where we’re at or where they’re at. It’s Minnesota versus Wisconsin. That’s the opportunity for us to go and finish strong before the Christmas break and before finals against a great team. They’re playing as well as I’ve seen them play in the past few years.”
One of the Gophers who seems to be playing his best hockey, senior goalie Justen Close, was the Big Ten’s player of the week after blanking the Spartans for five of the six periods they played. For the first two years of their college careers, Close and Jared Moe were the understudies to Jack LaFontaine. Moe is now Wisconsin’s starter, and Close has taken over the Gophers net. Close admitted that he enjoys crossing paths with his former teammate, but once the puck drops, Moe is just another guy wearing red.
“I look forward to seeing him, but once we get on the ice, we’re both competitors and there won’t be too much time to chit-chat then,” Close said.
The games versus Wisconsin face off at 8 p.m. CT on Friday and 6 p.m. CT Saturday at 3M Arena at Mariucci. Friday’s game will be televised by Big Ten Network with Jason Ross Jr. and former Gophers forward Ben Clymer calling the game. The Saturday rematch will be carried by Bally Sports North with Sam Ekstrom and Clymer on the broadcast.
On radio, the Gophers can be heard on 1130 AM / 103.5 FM in the Twin Cities with Wally Shaver and Frank Mazzocco in their 11th season together describing the action.
Two promotions of note for the weekend series: Friday’s game is a Gold Out, with all fans encouraged to wear gold, and the first 1,500 students in the door will receive free gold pom-poms. The school will also recognize first responders in attendance. On Saturday, there will be a teddy bear toss immediately following the game. All teddy bears will be donated to Masonic Children’s Hospital . Also, the first 1,000 fans entering the rink on Saturday will receive a ceramic Gophers hockey coffee mug.
The Gophers are 178-100-24 all-time versus the Badgers with their first series coming a century ago in Madison. On Jan. 20-21, 1922, the Gophers won 3-0 and 3-1 on the road in their inaugural games versus Wisconsin. In more recent history, the Gophers have won four of their past five meetings with the Badgers.