PHILADELPHIA — Before Minnesota took the ice for its Friday practice, Don Lucia was frank about what the Golden Gophers need to do in Saturday’s national title game.
“We need to play better tomorrow to beat Union than we played last night,” Lucia said.
For fans, the last-second nature of the Gophers’ win 2-1 win over North Dakota on Thursday may obscure what the Gophers themselves see plainly.
“I thought some of our young guys played tentative,” said Lucia. “It’s amazing sometimes when you’re a little bit nervous that your legs get heavy and they’re not moving the way they need to move. I thought we were fortunate in some regards last night to be moving on, but sometimes you have to find a way to win. And we found a way to win and we stuck with the game until we made a play.”
North Dakota outshot Minnesota 37-28 and the Gophers often had difficulty maintaining possession of the puck in the offensive zone. In that regard, Lucia said, North Dakota may have done Minnesota a favor.
“North Dakota’s defensemen were very offensive and very active in the play last night,” said Lucia, “so that’s going to help us I think with the mentality we’re going to have to have in the game tomorrow.”
“We have to be more solid defensively,” said senior captain Nate Condon, a forward. “When they [North Dakota] got into the offensive zone, they ran a lot of high cycles and their D really used their feet to change shooting lanes and things like that.
“It’s more of a matter that our wings had to be more active defensively. It wasn’t so much of just standing out and guarding your point; you had to be involved and be communicating with the D corps and the guys you had to switch with there in the D zone … and that was probably one thing that we picked up big early in the North Dakota game.”
The Dutchmen and the Gophers are well matched on paper. Union’s offense is second in the nation (3.73 goals per game) and Minnesota’s is sixth (3.48); the Dutchmen are fourth defensively (2.10), the Gophers second (1.98).
“We have to be a little bit sharper,” said Lucia, “and get pucks behind the D and establish more offensive zone time than we did last night because Union’s a very, very talented team.”