No matter what sport is being discussed, when the season is nearing its end, teams always talk about wanting to control their own destiny.
Minnesota’s men’s hockey team has just such a power now.
As a result of their sweep of Denver — and their 14-1-1 record over the past 16 games — at Mariucci Arena this weekend, the top-ranked Gophers (21-6-5, 16-5-3 Western Collegiate Hockey Association) hold a two-point lead over second-place Wisconsin in the WCHA standings.
Minnesota needs no help from anyone now, and in the event the team wins its final four games, it would clinch the MacNaughton Cup, awarded to the WCHA regular-season champion. The Gophers tied North Dakota for the honor in 1996-1997 and last won it outright in 1991-1992.
Not that it’s something the team is focusing on.
“What cup?” junior forward Danny Irmen said with a smile after Saturday’s 5-1 win over the Pioneers. “We haven’t talked about that at all, and that’s one of our things as a team is we don’t want to look ahead at anything.”
If they did look ahead, however, the Gophers would see a schedule that is very favorable to them winning the MacNaughton.
Minnesota’s past four games come against, record-wise, the two worst teams in the WCHA. The Gophers travel to last-place Alaska-Anchorage for a two-game set this weekend before closing out the regular season with a series at Mariucci against ninth place Duluth.
Minnesota’s closest competition for the title, Wisconsin and Denver, do not have things quite as easy.
The Badgers’ remaining schedule puts them at seventh-place Minnesota State and at home against sixth-place St. Cloud State.
Denver’s remaining schedule might be the toughest of all.
The Pioneers host fifth-place North Dakota and end the season with a home-and-home series against fourth-place Colorado College.
That being said, everyone thought Wisconsin — holding an eight-point lead in the standings just a little more than a month ago — could not be caught, either.
“A month ago, I conceded to Wisconsin,” Denver coach George Gwozdecky said Saturday. “And you know what? I’ll concede to Minnesota now.”
“It’s going to be very, very difficult for anybody to catch them, whether that be Denver or Wisconsin. It’s going to be very difficult. But, as we all know, this darn league, it changes so fast from one weekend to the next. I guess I’m done (with) my prophetizing.”
Harrington hits 100
Saturday’s sweep-clinching 5-1 win over Denver was a big win for all the Gophers. But it meant a little something extra for senior defenseman Chris Harrington.
That’s because Harrington’s assist on Minnesota’s first goal, by junior forward Danny Irmen, gave him 100 career points.
“I was just joking with the rival that (former University of Maine and current NHL standout) Paul Kariya, it only took him one season (to get 100 points, as Kariya did in the 1992-93 season), it took me four. But we got the same amount of points now,” Harrington said jokingly. “But no, it’s pretty exciting.”
Harrington picked up another assist Saturday on sophomore defenseman Alex Goligoski’s goal in the third period, and now has 101 points for his career (14 goals and 87 assists).
That number puts him at 11th in school history in points by a defenseman.
Guyer still struggling
While Harrington was busy hitting milestones this weekend, senior forward and team captain Gino Guyer continued to have no luck finding the back of the net.
Guyer again went goal-less this weekend. He has not scored a goal since Minnesota’s 2-2 tie at Duluth on Nov. 4 and has just four on the season.
“I don’t know, I think the world’s against me right now,” Guyer said jokingly after Friday’s 3-2 win. “Every possible thing. I mean, just can’t get one to go in.”
It was late in Friday’s victory that Guyer had perhaps his best chance in awhile to end the drought.
After Denver had pulled goalie Glenn Fisher for the extra attacker trailing 3-2, Guyer had a good look at the open net and fired a shot that was inadvertently blocked by his linemate, sophomore forward Mike Howe.
“You know, it’s going to happen,” Guyer said of ending the streak Friday. “I’m not going to worry too much. We’re getting wins and right now we’re in first place and that’s all that matters.”