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Minnesota Gopher hockey vs Denver Pioneers

"The sunshine state! Denver. Gorgeous!"

"I thought the Rocky Mountains would be a little rockier than this. That John Denver's full of ****, man."

Whenever I think of Denver, these three quotes are the first thing that comes to mind. When Gopher hockey fans think of Denver, the probably think of struggling and frustration, as the Gophs' have struggled to beat the Pioneers in the past few years. Per Dane Mizutani of the MN Daily:

The Gophers have struggled immensely against Denver in the past and are 2-8-0 in their last 10 meetings, a fact Lucia attributed to inability to score.

Minnesota has scored a total of five goals in those eight losses.

That stretch of losses happened during Minnesota's roughest years under Don Lucia (or just about anyone else, for that matter), while DU has maintained themselves as a top-shelf program during that time. The Gophers are a much better team this season, but they haven't been lighting the lamp with much frequency lately either, as they've only scored more than 3 goals in a game once in their past seven outings (the 6-2 thumping of UND). Minnesota's defense continues to be rock-soiid though, and that will help against a formidable offensive group led by Jason Zucker and Drew Shore. I'd love it if Denver wants to open it up the way UMD did, but I'm expecting another low scoring weekend.

Speaking of UMD, the Gophers lead the Bulldogs by 3 points for 1st in the WCHA, and looking at the standings, those two are the favorites in the race for the regular season crown, but a lot can happen in these last eight games. The top 7 teams have all played 20 conference games, so there's nothing to factor in as far as "games in hand" go. The top 4 are clear cut at the moment with Minnesota atop with 30 points, UMD (27), CC (25), and Denver (24). There's a 3-way battle for 5th, meaning one of Tech, UNO or UND are going to be going on the road in the first round of the WCHA playoffs. My money is on Tech falling to seventh, but then again, I thought they'd get swept by Duluth last week and didn't. I also thought they'd get swept by the Gophers and, of course, didn't. So perhaps I shouldn't underestimate the Huskies.

Denver could climb back into the race in a huge way with a sweep this weekend, or the Gophers could put them out of the title chase with a sweep of their own. I'd count on a split with the usual Friday lethargy followed by the Saturday rebound (also factor in that good ol' Mile High air could be an adjustment), but hey, the Gophs have won three in a row right now including-yes- a Friday night victory over St Cloud. So we'll see. With 8 left to play, all the games are big, and with Minnesota's remaining schedule, they need as much as they can get to keep their cushion on Duluth. After this weekend Minnesota hosts Bemidji, travels to Omaha, then finishes up with Sconnie at home to close the regular season. UMD gets North Dakota at home this weekend, then @ Mankato, home to arch-rival CC, then finish up at St Could State. Although the remaining schedules look pretty even on paper, I'd say the Gophers have a tougher remaining slate than the Bulldogs, as the two series against teams in the bottom half of the standings are Bemidji and Wisconsin, two teams that will have zero trouble being motivated to beat Minnesota.

So it's a big weekend for the Gophers in the sunshine state of Denver, as they need at least a split. A sweep? Now that would be gorgeous!