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Mike, what makes Mankato such a difficult team to play against? They've surprised, or maybe not so surprised, but they've played so many teams tough this year and got some good wins and have always played your team tough.
"Well, they do the one basic thing that allows them a chance to win games and that's play very hard. And their goaltending has been pretty good of late. If you look at the numbers from last weekend against St. Cloud, they got out-shot both games quite, by quite a margin and they still won the games, so that says their goaltending is playing well. And they're working hard.
"So unless, you know, once again, you go back to the formula, unless we're willing to play as hard as they do, then they give themselves a chance and we make it more difficult. But we feel that if we match their hard with our hard and we do the other things, we'll be just fine."
How disappointing was that final 10 minutes for you? And is that something you just address with the boys and move on from there?
"Brian, we played five out of six periods very well. And we didn't get out-shot in the third period. It was a perfect power-play goal and the fourth goal was just an anatomy of a goal against. It just happened in the last part of the game. We made two huge mistakes on it. Puck is knocked out of the air, hits the board, hits the side, and then goes on the stick of a defenseman who had no business being there in front of the net and he scores. So it was just one of those things.
"But, no, hey, we're talking about, talking with the captains and the team, you know, this is the time of year we want to start playing well. We fired 112 shots this weekend. Did we play well? Absolutely. We played very well. So we're going to build on that."
Mike, it's probably too far-fetched to say you have a goaltending controversy, but do you have a dilemma of sorts about how to best work Brian into this process that he's in and yet you have, now have an option that's more viable now than it was three weeks ago or four weeks ago?
"I think it's a very positive situation, the fact, Andy, that we now know what Shane can do. He's a college goaltender as of now, bonafide. And it was a nice way to end this first chapter of his career by having a shutout, going 3-5 and getting a shutout in his last game. We know what we have. We also know what we have in Brian Elliott, and probably our main task is to get him back to where he was before he got injured, and that'll be a priority for us."
Good word, priority. How much of a priority is the McNaughton Cup right now, and how does that play into how you would use your goaltenders down the stretch?
"Well, the McNaughton Cup is an intermediate goal on our way up to the top of the mountain. And, you know, if we focus, you know, Coach Ryan talked about it. We've got to focus on the things that we can control. If we do that and if we get back playing to the way we were, we have a chance to, we're 3-1-1 in this month right now, after all the other months we were way above .500.
"In the month of January we struggled. Now we're getting back to where we want to be. And if we do that this month and against St. Cloud, then we give ourselves the best chance of getting that intermediate goal. But it's still about pushing to the end of the year, playing our best hockey."
Mike, Tom Gorowsky has been a victim of depth, I think you would probably say in your lineup. What can he do to get some more playing time or what are you looking for out of him to get back into that mix of being, you know, in the lineup?
"You know, Tommy, I just talked to the captains about him, he's doing exactly what he needs to do right now. They asked him what he did this weekend. You know, he said, I stayed back, I skated when I could, I ran the stadium steps, I lifted, and he's controlling the things that he can control. Now with the injury to Andrew, you know, he has a more viable option to be in the lineup this weekend and that'll depend on this practice this week. But Tommy is controlling the things he can control right now, and that's a good sign for a young man."
Can you give an overview of what Andrew's situation is?
"I know he's getting an MRI this afternoon on his leg, and at that time we'll know, we'll have all the pieces in that will give us a timeframe. So, you know, probably at the end of practice today we'll have a better idea."
Do you have any sense if it's something that's season-ending? Is it something that . . .
"No. I would say no. If I was to make an analogy, it'd be similar to what Brian had."
With that line, does Jake now become more of a, would you put him back at center?
"Yes. Yes, we will."
Would that be your next priority as opposed to, you had Andy, they're playing, was the next guy playing. Is Jake a more viable center option there than perhaps Andy Brandt?
"Yes, yes. Yeah."
I just wanted to ask you a little bit about the top line, you know, Robbie, Joe, and Adam. Even on weekends where it really hasn't clicked for them, they still have gotten points. And a lot of that, I know, has to do with them being on the power play. But what makes them so efficient at even getting points when maybe they're not playing as good as they have on other nights?
"If you take a look at those young men, I think, you know, they bring an element to the game of hockey by their natural gifts. Robbie is quick, skilled, a good shot. Joe is not as adept a skater as maybe Robbie is, but he has good hands and he thinks the game very well. And Adam brings to that line an element of speed and physicalness. He makes space for those other two young guys. And they feed off each other. They use each other while using their strengths. And when you have a combination of three guys that do that, they're awful hard to play against. So I would think it would be that formula right there."
Mike, who's been your most consistent player this year?
"Well, before he got hurt, I would have said young Mr. Elliott. His numbers would bear that out. We knew what we were going to get from him week in and weekend out. From a defenseman, probably the most consistent defenseman would be Tommy Gilbert.
"And as a forward, two names come to mind. I mean, Andrew Joudrey, I think that's one of his strengths. He just, you know, he's not going to give you fantastic offensive flair, but he's never going to let you down defensively, so he's always in the middle. I wish he gave us more offensive flair, but I don't think that's who he is at a natural level. We talk about him trying to get that offensive strut. But, you know, just in terms of game in, game out, probably Andrew as a forward."
You talked before about the quirky or strange ending on Saturday, but that your team played well all weekend, the number of the shots . . . after having talked to your captains today, after leaving the locker room on Saturday, did you get the sense that the players walk away from that feeling that ‘we played really well this weekend and we are playing better right now'?
"Absolutely. Even Adam made the comment when he was sitting in the penalty box, with the penalty box attendant saying, jeez, how you guys lost the games you lost, you're the best team we've seen here all year. Now I don't know which night that was, if it was Saturday or Friday night, but the fact was, you know, here's a, you know, just this guy talking about it. And our numbers are, you know, I think they're excited about getting Brian back. They know what this team is capable of doing. And we just want to end out this month here by ending on a high note so that we're playing our best hockey at the end of the year."
Coach, can you talk about the play of Jeff Likens this year and whether he's chalked up some unnecessary penalty minutes or not?
"Jeff Likens is a warrior, through and through. There are times that I wish he was more gifted with the puck, but it's amazing how many times when he might fumble the puck and he makes up for it with second effort. And I would go to war with Jeff Likens any day.
"You know, he's just a, he's not the biggest young man, but he battles tooth and nail. He's a vocal guy, one of the few vocal guys, true vocal guys we have in the locker room. And you know what? I'll live with some of those aggressive penalties, because it's funny how it works out. On aggressive penalties, you usually kill those ones off, and what he gives our team in terms of spirit and heart, I'll live with a couple of those penalties."
What are the effects of having this month on the road, I mean, having to pack up on Thursday every week and go somewhere? You lose, you know, part of that flow, I guess, maybe. Is there anything that has really just made this a grind more than average?
"Well, I think the grind has been lessened by the fact that we had the Lambeau thing. I really believe that. And it's funny. I was walking by the locker room going out and seeing the basketball court out there again, you know, at the end of the year, we have to win on the road anyway.
"So I think that's, is that an attitudinal thing, just that's the way we look at it. But I think it is. We're kind of like a MASH unit. We've got to pick up and move on and set up camp and get it done. And I think that's the attitude we have. I don't think we as coaches make a big deal out of it. I don't think the players, they sense that, and it's just the way it is."