The Gophers captured the 2013 Ice Breaker this weekend at Mariucci Arena with victories over Mercyhurst and New Hampshire. Here is what we learned from the Gophers' first weekend:
Scoring Depth Looks Good
Coach Lucia said leading into the weekend that he didn't think the team has a 25-goal scorer this season, but he believed the team has more scoring depth than last year. Based on this week's results, he was right. The nine total goals scored this weekend by Minnesota came from eight different skaters. This accomplishment was even more impressive considering all four forward lines chipped in and two defensemen found the back of the net. In total, 14 different Gophers registered at least a point this weekend, including Justin Holl who assisted on two goals from his natural defensive position after playing forward last season.
These Freshmen Can Play
The most impressive young forward was Hudson Fasching. He combined with Kyle Rau and Sam Warning to create the Gophers' dangerous line during the Ice Breaker. Hudson showed play-making ability and speed to burn this weekend en-route to posting his first career goal and a pair of assists. Fasching is in the power-forward mold and he displayed no fear in going right to the net on many occasions. He was named to the 2013 Ice Breaker All-Tournament Team.
Justin Kloos sparkled on Friday night against Mercyhurst. He displayed allusiveness on the rush and scored a power-play goal in the second period. Vinni Lettieri earned praise from coach Lucia for his energy and scored the game-winning goal against New Hampshire. Defensively, two Gophers got their first taste of college hockey. Michael Brodzinski scored Friday night in his first game and Jake Bischoff earned key ice time as the Gophers were protecting a one-goal lead late Saturday night.
Wilcox Continues to Shine
Heading into the season, the area the Gophers felt the most confident about was goaltending. Sophomore Adam Wilcox demonstrated why this weekend. On Friday, Wilcox made 25 saves against the Lakers to pick up the fourth shutout of his career. On Saturday, he made the timely save again continuing the trend from last year. New Hampshire's Dalton Speelman thought he had tied the game with seven seconds left until Wilcox robbed him with a miraculous glove save. Adam would be the first to give the defense a lot of credit for how they preformed in front of him this weekend. The Gophers did not give up a goal all weekend at full strength.
What Needs Work:
No game is perfect, especially at the beginning of the season. The Gophers will be working on special teams during practice this week. The power play features a lot of new faces playing in new roles and looks like it will take time for everything to click. After the power play succeeded twice on Friday, it went 0-6 Saturday night and failed to generate many quality chances. The penalty kill also proved to be a weak point during the second period of Saturday's game. New Hampshire's two goals came with the man advantage and both came, in part, because Minnesota penalty killers gave the puck away cheaply in their own zone. The other area where the team will look for improvement is in the face-off dot. It may take time with a pair of new centers in the top six.
Minnesota travels to Bemidji State next weekend to take on the Beavers. The trip will give us a first look at how this under-sized team will fare on an NHL-sized rink. Bemidji State will certainly try to take away the Gophers speed advantage. It will be interesting to see what, if any, changes are made to the Gophers lineup as the team searches to find what players will develop the best chemistry. The Beavers lost and tied this weekend at St. Cloud State and are working in many new faces to their lineup.
Story By University of Minnesota Communications Intern Josh Brennock
The Gophers topped Mercyhurst, 6-0, tonight
First Victory in the Books
The Gophers won their season opener for the fourth-straight year. Their last loss on opening night came in 2009 to North Dakota. Tonight, the Gophers blew the game open with three goals in the second after having just a 1-0 lead after one period. The victory also continued a trend of lopsided victories to start the season. Two years ago, the Gophers bested Sacred Heart by a score of 9-0 and last season Michigan State was on the short end of a 5-1 score.
Rau Steps UP
Kyle Rau scored the Gophers first goal of the season. It was a power-play marker 5:25 into the period. It was a typical-Rau goal. He was stationed at the side of the net and found himself with just enough room to shovel the puck home after it trickled to him. Kyle will be asked to shoulder a lot of the scoring load this season after the departures of talented players like Bjugstad, Haula, and Budish. Travis Boyd picked up a helper on the tally. He is hoping to spark his offensive output this year, so that should be a good confidence booster for him.
The Rau goal from Travis Boyd kicked off a great night for Minnesota's junior class. Rau later set up a goal for fellow classmate Sam Warning. Seth Ambroz also tallied an unassisted goal to add to the party. He threw the puck between his legs from below the goal line and it banked off of a Laker defender and into the net. The coaching staff said this week that they are hoping to see returning players elevate their games. The junior class certainly did that tonight. As mentioned above, with the loss of some talented players, the Gophers need someone to pick up the scoring slack.
Minnesota dressed five fresh faces in the lineup tonight. They wasted little time making an impact. Justin Kloos was the first rookie to score, notching his goal on the power play during the second period. Fellow freshman Michael Brodzinski capped the scoring for the night with a point shot late in the third period. Hudson Fasching also showed moments of glory. He set up Mike Reilly for a goal, registering an assist, and displayed blazing speed on an end-to-end rush before passing to Kyle Rau.
The Gophers will battle New Hampshire tomorrow night in the Ice Breaker Championship Game. New Hampshire downed Clarkson, , in Friday's other semifinal. The Gophers and Wildcats have a long history against each other, dating back to 1979. Many Gopher fans remember the 2003 NCAA Championship Game when Minnesota topped New Hampshire, 5-1. Overall, Minnesota owns a 13-2-2 record against the Wildcats. The puck drops tomorrow evening at 7 p.m. CT.
The 2013-14 Gopher hockey season commences this weekend as Minnesota hosts the 2013 Ice Breaker at Mariucci Arena. The Gophers will welcome Mercyhurst, New Hampshire, and Clarkson to the Twin Cities for the two-day tournament. Wednesday afternoon coach Don Lucia and members of the team met with the local media to discuss the opening weekend.
The Gophers will open with Mercyhurst on Friday night. The Lakers return a veteran group that includes three players who registered over 30 points last season. "They like to get up and down the rink. They are an older team like most of the teams from (Atlantic Hockey) are. It will be a real good challenge for our young guys," Lucia said.
Speaking of the young guys, the freshman got their first taste of collegiate play last weekend against Lethbridge. Overall, coach Lucia liked what he saw. "(The freshmen) did a good job. I was happy, I think some returning players improved from where they were a year ago and that is a real positive."
The influx of talented freshmen gives the coaching staff plenty of options for setting the lineup. "When I look at our team, I don't see a 25-goal scorer. However, I do see a lot of guys who have the potential to put the puck in the net," Lucia said. "We are balanced. I think we are a little deeper up front then we were a year ago. I think we can have four pretty balanced lines." While Lucia has some lines in mind, there is opportunity for players to take on large roles this season.
The players are aware that they cannot take any team lightly as the games begin to count this weekend. "(Mercyhurst) was picked to win their league. You definitely can't look past them. They are a good team. There a three solid teams coming in this weekend, so it will be fun to see where we are at," forward Seth Ambroz said.
With the season just 48 hours away there was a general feeling of excitement in the locker room . "We have been waiting for a long time. We have been working out all summer while taking classes. It is nice it is only two days away," defenseman Brady Skjei said.
Minnesota will first hit the ice at 7:10 p.m. CT on Friday night against Mercyhurst. Earlier on Friday, New Hampshire will square off with Clarkson. The two winners will battle for the championship Saturday evening at 7:00 p.m., with the losers meeting at 4:00 p.m. on Saturday. Both Gopher games can be heard on 1500 ESPN. The FOX Sports North network will broadcast both Gopher games this weekend.
-Story By University of Minnesota Communications Intern Josh Brennock
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