First ahl goal! pic.twitter.com/dYPumL6q8i-- Tom Serratore (@Serratore1489) April 17, 2014
Coach Lucia addressing the team after today's skate. pic.twitter.com/3fVVQ67pJk-- Gopher Hockey (@GopherHockey) March 28, 2014
Minnesota begins their postseason odyssey this week with a trip to the Big Ten Men's Ice Hockey Tournament. The Gophers enter as the Tournament's top seed after claiming the regular-season crown and will play their first game in Friday night's semifinal at the Xcel Energy Center. Head coach Don Lucia and select players met with the media Wednesday afternoon to discuss the beginning of postseason play.
The Gophers are viewing the Big Ten Tournament as a chance to build towards a successful postseason run. "We are excited about the regular season we had, but that chapter is over. Now, we open up a new chapter this weekend," Lucia said.
Minnesota will skate at the Xcel Energy Center the next two weekends in the Big Ten Tournament and then in the NCAA West Regional. Coach Lucia is confident the team will not be looking ahead to the NCAA Tournament. "We are trying to win a championship this weekend, so there is a lot at stake."
There is no secret that last season did not end how the team envisioned after a very successful regular-season campaign. "We were dissatisfied. It has been a year of bitter taste. We finally get another shot at it," goalie Adam Wilcox said.
Minnesota's regular-season success was rewarded this past week by the conference's coaches and media. Adam Wilcox led the charge by being named the Big Ten Player of the Year and Big Ten Goaltender of the Year. "He has been our best player," Lucia said.
The Hobey Baker Award nominee was quick to give credit to his teammates. "I could not have done it without the team," Wilcox said. "It is a great individual award to have, but at the same time it is a team award."
Adam Wilcox's teammate and roommate Mike Reilly was named the Big Ten Defenseman of they Year. "(He) made great strides with his play during the course of the year. I think he deserved to be picked as the best defenseman," Lucia said.
Mike Reilly said strides away from the rink translated to his success on it. "It was a big summer for getting stronger with Cal Dietz in the weight room."
Coach Lucia was also named the Big Ten Coach of the Year. "I have been honored because we have so many good players," Lucia said. "I am fortunate that I have a great staff to work with."
This week at the Xcel Center, the Gophers will be on an NHL-sized rink for the third-straight week. "I think we are out of the Olympic-rink mindset now," Wilcox said. "It is nice to have a couple of away games to build that road-game mentality we will need in the playoffs." Minnesota will see NHL-sized rinks the rest of the season.
Minnesota will play their first game of the tournament Friday night at 7 p.m. CT. A win on Friday means a finals appearance Saturday night. The title tilt will begin at 7 p.m. CT. All five games of the Big Ten Tournament will air live on BTN.
-Story by Josh Brennock
Vanek with the Austrian National Team at the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi.
The NHL trade deadline came to pass once again on Wednesday with several Gopher-related transactions and news including Thomas Vanek being dealt to Montreal, Hudson Fasching's NHL rights moving to Buffalo and Ryan Stoa making his season debut with the Washington Capitals.
Now on his third team for the 2013-14 season, Vanek has 53 points (21 goals, 32 assists) in 60 games with the Islanders and Sabres this season. The forward, who will be an unrestricted free agent after this season, has recorded 541 points (271 goals, 270 assists) and 396 penalty minutes in 645 NHL career games with the Sabres and Islanders.
"Knowing the history behind the team, I was very happy to learn the news," admitted Vanek, who was acquired alongside a conditional fifth round pick in the 2014 draft in exchange for prospect Sebastian Collberg and a conditional second round pick in 2014. "I've played in Montreal so often when I was with the Sabres and I've always loved coming here. The atmosphere at the Bell Centre is electric."
A native of Baden, near Vienna, Vanek was the Sabres' first round selection, fifth overall, at the 2003 NHL Entry Draft.
Vanek will join the team on Thursday in Phoenix.
Vanek's trade was the second related to the Gophers on Wednesday with Fasching's rights moving from Los Angeles to Buffalo earlier in the day.
Fasching leads all Big Ten rookies with 12 goals this season and ranks second in points scored by conference newcomers (one off the Big Ten lead). Fasching was originally drafted by Los Angeles in the fourth round (118th overall) of the 2013 NHL Entry Draft.
Meanwhile, Stoa made his season debut in the NHL last night as the Washington Capitals fell to Philadelphia 6-4.
The Bloomington, Minn., native and former First Team All-American was selected 34th overall by the Colorado Avalanche in the second round of the 2005 NHL Entry Draft and has appeared in 37 career NHL games with Colorado, registering seven points (four goals, three assists) and 20 penalty minutes.
Stoa is the 16th former Gopher to skate in the NHL this season joining Keith Ballard (Minnesota), Nick Bjugstad (Florida), Alex Goligoski (Dallas), Erik Haula (Minnesota), Erik Johnson (Colorado), Phil Kessel (Toronto), Nick Leddy (Chicago), Jordan Leopold (St. Louis), Paul Martin (Pittsburgh), Aaron Ness (New York Islanders), Kyle Okposo (New York Islanders), Nate Schmidt (Washington), Jordan Schroeder (Vancouver), Thomas Vanek (Montreal Canadiens) and Blake Wheeler (Winnipeg).
Justin Holl, Michael Shibrowski, Tom Serratore, Jake Parenteau, Nate Condon
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