The Minnesota Golden Gophers are about to embark on their maiden voyage into Big Ten hockey. The new season brings with it many changes. In addition to competing in the new conference, the Gophers welcome eight fresh faces to the squad to replace the departure of six elite talents, who are all playing professional hockey this year.
Chances for players to assume largeer roles exist up and done the line up as the season begins.
"Guys are going to be given an opportunity, whether it is playing the first line or the fourth line, and it is what (the players) do with it," head coach Don Lucia said. "We are going to have to do a lot of moving guys around during the early part of the season to figure out what the best combinations are going to be."
The freshmen class may be inexperienced at the collegiate level, but they are not short on talent and they will be expected to contribute this season.
"We are going to have to have some of (the freshman) score for us if we are going to have a successful year," Lucia said. Veteran players will be counted upon to lead the way and show the younger Gophers what is expected from them.
One of those eight new skaters is redshirt freshman Connor Reilly. He returns to the ice this season after missing over a season of hockey while going through two major knee surgeries. Lucia knows it will take Reilly time to get back to where he was before the injury, but there are encouraging signs, "Week by week he will make tremendous strides. We have seen that already in practice. He has his good stick skills, his hockey sense, and bite to his game."
Connor will join his brothers Ryan and Mike in a Gophers sweater this season and Mike can't wait to see it.
"We have been playing our whole lives together, so getting that feeling back is pretty special."
Despite all the changes among the skaters, sophomore goaltender Adam Wilcox remains the anchor of the team. Lucia anticipates more of the same from Wilcox this season.
"What I liked about his game last year was he made the timely save. When the game was tied, he made the big save to help us win the game and when we were ahead by a goal he would preserve it. He was very consistent."
For his part, Wilcox is excited to have a year of college hockey under his belt. "Last year, I did not know what to expect coming in after two years of juniors. Obviously, college is a whole different ball game. Now, I know what to expect." He comes into this season on the Big Ten's preseason watch list.
The Gophers will host the University of Lethbridge in an exhibition game this Saturday at 7 p.m. before they open up their regular season slate by hosting the Ice Breaker the following weekend. Fans can expect to see plenty of the young players against Lethbridge.
-Story By University of Minnesota Communications Intern Josh Brennock