BLAINE, Minn. — When the Minnesota Gophers arrived at Fogerty Ice Arena north of Minneapolis for their first Skate the Cities event of the season, perhaps nobody was happier to be there than freshman forward Jaxon Nelson. When a flu bug tore through the Gophers locker room last week, Nelson was hardest hit by the illness, and staying home from the team’s trip to Michigan State last weekend to recuperate.

He was back on the ice on Monday evening and appeared to be fully recovered. That is the good news on the Gophers’ health front. The bad news was on view as sophomore forward Garrett Wait sat in the stands watching his teammates practice, sidelined with an upper body injury suffered in Saturday night’s 2-0 win over the Spartans.

“Garrett Wait is going to be out a period of time,” Gophers coach Bob Motzko said. “It’s maybe a little better than we originally thought so I’m not going to put a time frame on it now, but he’s going to be out a couple weeks at least.”

The timing for Wait, who has two goals and six points in 14 games, is perhaps as good as it can be this late in the season, with the Gophers playing an exhibition game versus the USA Hockey U-18 on Friday at home, and not playing another game that counts until Friday, Jan. 24 when Ohio State comes to 3M Arena at Mariucci. Still, Motzko said he is not expecting to rest many of his starters for the exhibition game.

“We’re just coming off a 21-day break. Nobody’s tired right now,” he said. “We have some things we need to work on, so I think we’re going to play a lineup and get after it.”

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Outdoor games loved by fans, players

Unlike their colleagues who play for the Gophers women’s hockey team, the men will not have a game as part of Hockey Day Minnesota, which will be held this weekend at Parade Stadium in Minneapolis. The men will have an outdoor practice there on Sunday afternoon which is open to the public.

Just over two years ago, on Dec. 29, 2017, Motzko was behind the bench for Team USA at the World Junior Championships in Buffalo, N.Y. In the tournament’s preliminary round, the Americans beat Canada 4-3 in a shootout outdoors played before an audience of 44,000-plus at New Era Field, the home stadium of the NFL’s Buffalo Bills. He said that as a coach he sometimes grumbles about the unpredictable playing conditions of outdoor games, but understands the appeal.

“I complain like heck going into it behind the scenes, until you get there and you’re doing it,” Motzko said. “The fans have a blast and the players love it, and that’s what it’s for.”

Motzko also watched his son Mack play outdoors for St. Cloud Cathedral two years ago in St. Cloud and for Minnetonka last season in Bemidji as part of Hockey Day.

“I’m sure they’re going to do a great job in Minneapolis. Each year it keeps getting ramped up. St. Cloud two years ago did a tremendous job. Bemidji last year was great,” he said. “Unfortunately we don’t get to play. We’re going to skate outdoors. But they are special and anytime the fans can be engaged and really enjoy it with the players, I’m all for it. I just don’t want it to be too cold, like it was last year.”

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Good news in the classroom

University of Minnesota athletics officials announced some positive news about the “student” part of the term “student-athlete” on Monday. The school’s varsity sports boasted a record cumulative grade-point average of 3.33 for the fall semester, which was the highest ever recorded.

“I’ve been back at Minnesota now for a year and a half and there’s something cool going on. There’s something special inside that department,” Motzko said. “When I got there you could feel it and I inherited a group that had been doing very well in the classroom. They’ve continued to do that to make us look good. It’s mostly a testament to the parents and the families where these kids come from, and they’re motivated to do well. Our guys knocked it out of the park again.”

While they did not release specific numbers for the hockey program, it was noted that each Gophers team has a GPA of 3.10 or better.

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