'The best thing is not to over-analyze it': Gophers host Michigan State riding 5-game win streak

Sammy Walker earned the Big Ten First Star of the Week honors with three points as the Gophers swept Wisconsin last weekend. ((credit: University of Minnesota))

The University of Minnesota men’s hockey team is starting to fire on all cylinders at just about the perfect time of the season.

The Gophers, after sweeping Wisconsin 6-2 and 4-2 last weekend, have won five straight games and seven of their past eight. Minnesota is one point out of the lead in the Big Ten with four regular season series to play, starting this weekend with Michigan State at 3M at Mariucci Arena.

There are plenty of positive vibes around practice these days, which couldn’t be said back in late November. Before taking a three-week break for the holidays, the Gophers had gone winless in five straight games.

Coach Bob Motzko isn’t about to get into any details to explain his team’s recent hot streak. He prefers to let it be.

“I think the best thing to do is not to overanalyze it. So you want me to analyze it? I’m not going to. The first half, we kept seeing glimpses of a good hockey team. It would be there and you just couldn’t get traction, but yet it was there,” Motzko said. “I kept telling everybody I like this hockey team. I see something here, and then the break came at an incredible time where you could breathe and recharge, and we got some traction. Let’s not overanalyze it any more than that, we got some traction.”

While Motzko prefers to leave the analysis to others, the numbers don’t lie. They’re scoring goals in bunches, and not letting a lot through. The Gophers have scored at least four goals in five of their last six wins. They scored 10 times at the Kohl Center last weekend, and have 20 goals in their last four games, a pair of Big Ten sweeps.

They’ve scored a season-high six goals in two of their past three games. The offensive outburst was enough for Minnesota to sweep the Big Ten weekly awards. Sammy Walker had three points last weekend to earn First Star of the Week honors, and both of his goals ended up being eventual game-winners. He added an assist Saturday, and has 19 points in 26 games this season.

Bryce Brodzinski was named the Second Star of the Week after scoring three goals at Wisconsin. He had two goals Friday night for his first career multi-point game. He’s got 10 points in 26 games, and four of his six goals have come against the Badgers. Brannon McManus earned the Third Star with two goals Friday and an assist Saturday. McManus has nine points in his last four games, and is tied for the team lead with 20 points.

“Guys are just playing with more confidence now and you can kind of see that. We’re working harder and I would say just having more fun with it,” Walker said.

Despite all the success, there remains a logjam for the Big Ten lead. Ohio State, Penn State, Michigan State, Minnesota and Notre Dame are separated by all of one point for the top spot in the conference. When the Gophers traveled to Michigan State about a month ago, they lost 4-1 Friday night before coming back Saturday with a 2-0 win.

Not counting a loss to the U.S. 18-and-under team, the Gophers have won four straight games since. There’s still a lot of work ahead for Minnesota. Their recent hot streak has them receiving votes in the U.S. College Hockey Online weekly poll, and they’re No. 18 in the most recent PairWise rankings, a big factor in determining the 10 at-large bids for the NCAA Tournament.

The Gophers’ remaining schedule includes Michigan State this weekend, at Notre Dame, at Penn State and then a final home series against Michigan. The Spartans are 9-6-1 in Big Ten play, and are tied with the Gophers at 28 points. The Spartans are 5-6 on the road this season and are coming off series splits with Wisconsin and Penn State.

The Gophers are back in the thick of things with four regular season series left, just where they want to be.

“It’s fun to be out there at practice right now. It’s fun when you’re winning. But we know what’s at stake, we know what we have to do and our end goal obviously it’s Big Ten. The PairWise too, I know we have a legit chance so we can’t keep that in our back pocket.” McManus said. “We’ve got to stick to what’s been working and keep building from here.”

Motzko doesn’t want to admit his team might have turned a corner, but he will say there’s a good vibe in the locker room. That’s what winning can do.

“We’ve got a real good group of guys. They’re fun to be around, there’s great life with them. We’re going to get punched in the nose again, but we’re going to work right now and there’s a good vibe inside our group,” Motzko said.