"Well, the weeks were totally different because the last time we had a week off the guys were on their own. We couldn't spend time with them. This past week we spent time with them. We thought our practices were pretty productive in terms of what we wanted to get done. So, plus the final five weekends here are pretty much a sprint, playing some great teams, and so there'll be internal motivation to be ready to go. So I think it's a little bit different, Todd, in this case."
Mike, given your record against Minnesota, have they become kind of a, are they kind of a hurdle for you at this point?
"Well, in the years that we've been here, we went there, we haven't won, but last year they came in here, we took three out of four points. So, I mean, I don't take a look at it, it's just another really good team in the WCHA. It just so happens is they're, you know, a tremendous rivalry that has historical background to it. And I know that the guys will be excited. And it just kicks off five straight weeks of some great hockey that we have. We've forged ourselves into a pretty good team here with our record. Now we have a chance to go from a good team to a great team based on how we perform in the next five weekends."
Mike, one of the theories with Minnesota, the reason that they've struggled here recently, is just that they play a lot of young kids and some of those kids have kind of hit a wall, especially on defense. How do you, given you're kind of in the same boat, have you recognized any telltale signs of that with your guys and how are you kind of trying to maybe massage what you guys do to avoid that?
"I don't think we've seen it to the degree that Minnesota has seen it. I mean, they played so well early and then they really hit a storm in terms of performances. And they're leaning toward the fact that they've got a lot of young kids in their lineup. And we have a lot of young kids too. I don't know if we have as many that stepped right out of high school into playing at their level. I don't see it in our younger kids for whatever reason. We just focus in on this weekend as a lead-in to a great five weekends of hockey."
You've obviously been here for a short time as coach, but do you recall having a greater sense of anticipation, not just about what this weekend is, you've got two sellout crowds, your archrival is coming in, you're playing for a championship, and then the ensuing weeks, have you ever sensed, had a greater sense of anticipation about playing?
"I'm really looking forward to it. I think the kids have earned this right. We talk about the fact that we've forged ourself into a good team. Had we not done the work up to this time we would never be saying what you just stated, and the fact is we have done that now. Now this is where we take our season and it either becomes a good season for us or becomes a great season. We have that opportunity because of the work the kids have put in. And that's the anticipation, how good can we become. And the fact that we're playing such great opponents is that's the straw that's going to make us a great team if we have that ability within ourselves."
Coach, can you talk about the mentality heading into that tough stretch? How do you keep the guys focused game from game rather than looking at the whole scope of things?
"Well, that's, emotionally I don't think we're going to have to work too hard at having the kids get ready to play. It's going to be about the coaching staff making sure that our kids understand to keep their emotional tap on their emotions, because they could lose a lot of energy thinking about, you know, beating the Gophers, you know, both games instead of just focusing on Friday night.
"So our task will be to keep them under control, talk about their ideal performance state, and go from moment to moment. It's something that we've talked about all year. You talk about winning game by game, if you can go shift by shift and focus on that shift, you give yourself the best chance of being successful. So that'll be our task. That'll be our big task as coaches this week."
Taking off of that last question, do you want your guys to have the MacNaughton Cup in their eyes?
"It's one of those intermediate goals. Our goal is an NCAA championship, but as an intermediate goal, you're certainly on your way to the top of the mountain, you're going to try to get there. And, again, because of what has happened up to this point, we put ourselves in a position that that's an attainable goal and we'll work toward that."
Coach, is there anything that's different from this Minnesota team that you're playing this weekend than the Minnesota team that swept you up in Minnesota earlier in the year?
"No. They still pretty much do the same things. Their defensemen love to jump in the play. They like to move the puck around. They're a team that has real fine skating abilities. We're going to have to be smart in terms of the number of penalties we take. So they're primarily the same team. They've got primarily the same lineup. Their goaltender has been pretty solid for them all year. So we have to go out there and perform very well, and I'm looking forward to that. It's one of these things we always tell our kids, I'm excited for them because they're going to find out how good they can be. You only find out how good you are by playing the best, and we have that opportunity these next five weekends."
Coach, earlier you mentioned, talked about your struggles up at Mariucci recently, and yet you had success down here last year against them. Anything that you've seen from on tape about your team that they play differently up there as opposed to down here against the Gophers that explains it to you the difference?
"Well, this year I can just lean toward one aspect, the fact that we had a lot of young kids going into Mariucci for the very first time and they were star-struck. They stood around for a while until the game was pretty much out of reach there. So it's just, you know, our kids have matured now. They've come together as a group. I think they believe in each other and I think that'll be a factor for us, being in our own barn. I think we're a better team than we were then, as I'm sure Minnesota feels, but we're in our own barn now, so we'll lean on that."
Mike, is there a simple way to prevent Gophers defensemen from getting into the play and getting that offense rolling a little?
"Every time you're within a stick length of them, finish them, make it miserable for them. If they're getting smacked into the boards and it's tough for them to get up ice, and then we just, we need to be diligent in that and to make sure, you always talk about your back pressure. We need tremendous back pressure from our fore checkers to eliminate any of their people beating us up ice."
From strictly an observer's point of view, you couldn't have asked for a better stretch for you guys because you play everybody who is either ahead of you or chasing you, right behind you. Is that how you prefer it? I mean, I would think you might want a break somewhere in there, but if you're going to win this thing you're definitely going to earn it with the stretch that you have.
"It's in our hands. It's in our hands. And I think that if you were to ask any athlete they would like that opportunity to have it in their hands rather than waiting for, having to look at the scoreboard. We can, at the end of the year, look at ourselves and say, 'You know, we had an opportunity to get it done.'"