Unbeaten Gophers hockey eager for season’s first road trip

The fifth-ranked Gophers men’s hockey team will face the challenge of a depleted roster when it takes on Michigan State and Michigan over the next week as multiple players will be in and out of the lineup over the next four games.
Minnesota will be without senior forward Brannon McManus against Michigan State on Thursday and Friday after he suffered a leg injury Nov. 24 against Ohio State. Gophers’ coach Bob Motzko said he will be back on the ice at some point but didn’t indicate whether he’d be ready to go against Michigan on Dec. 8-9.
Meanwhile, the Gophers (4-0-0) will return junior defenseman Robbie Stucker, who didn’t play the first four games for unknown reasons. His return is timely, as Minnesota will be missing three defensemen – Ryan Johnson, Jackson LaCombe and Brock Faber – while they’re in Plymouth, Mich., prior to the Michigan series for U.S. junior national team training camp.
Michigan (4-2-0) also will be missing five players participating in U.S. junior national team training camp. Both teams will look to avoid losing any more players in a season where anyone can be out at a moment’s notice because of COVID-19 protocols.
“You got to be ready for anything this year,” Motzko said. “And you’ve got to pre-prepare for anything this year.”
Minnesota was preparing early for its first road trip of the season. On Monday, Motzko joked that some players were already packed. The moving pieces in the lineup haven’t dampened excitement from a team ready to hit the road and get back on the ice.
“I think our whole team is looking forward to the series, getting on the road finally, first road trip of the year, so it’ll be nice,” sophomore defenseman Matt Staudacher said. “Road trips are nice; it’s just the boys, time to bond.”
Staudacher, a Michigan native, was also excited for the opportunity to play in his home state. While the road trip won’t look the same as it would in an ordinary year, as the team aims to stay in its quasi-bubble, he’s looking forward to the “pure Michigan air.”
“Going into the series, I think we’ll match up well against both teams,” Staudacher said. “Smaller ice sheets, so I think our speed will still be an advantage. And I think we’ve just got to go in and play hard.”
Motzko described the road trip as a “dogfight weekend,” four conference games in seven days. Minnesota is expecting a well-coached, physical team when they step on the ice against the Spartans (1-1-0) Thursday in East Lansing.
“They’re a great team. I mean they’re strong and play really well together, so it’s going to be a great couple games and we’re looking forward to it,” LaCombe said.
The next four games will round out the first portion of Minnesota’s schedule as the team awaits the schedule release of the remaining 20 conference games. While Motzko would like to move forward with plans for the remainder of the season, he was ultimately just thankful to be back in the rink.
“We’re just happy we’re playing, so there has been no frustration,” Motzko said. “We’re in a good spot right now with our team … and we’re excited about our start, we’re not letting anything frustrate us.”
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