NHL: Kessel's Birthday Goal

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Phil Kessel turned 26 yesterday -- a day after signing a $64 million, eight-year contract extension to stay with Toronto until 2021-22.  How did the former Gopher celebrate? By going out Wednesday night and erasing a first period 1-0 lead for the Philadelphia Flyers as the Maple Leafs scored three-straight goals in route to a 3-1 win -- moving Toronto to 2-0-0 early in the 2013-14 NHL season. 

Kessel now has two points in two games for the Maple Leafs after assisting on a goal in Toronto's 4-3 win over Montreal to open the season on Tuesday. 

Gophers Preseason Media Availability

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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

NHL Update: 12 Gophers Open Season on NHL Rosters

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The NHL season officially started on Tuesday night with a trio of games, and there are plenty of Gophers starting the 2013-14 season in the NHL -- 12 of them to be exact on active rosters as of the first day of the season. 

Here's the full list of Gophers starting the season in the NHL:
Keith Ballard - Minnesota Wild
Erik Johnson - Colorado Avalanche
Nick Bjugstad - Florida Panthers
Blake Wheeler - Winnipeg Jets
Alex Goligoski - Dallas Stars
Thomas Vanek - Buffalo Sabres
Kyle Okposo - New York Islanders
Paul Martin - Pittsburgh Penguins
Nick Leddy - Chicago Blackhawks
Jordan Leopold - St. Louis Blues
Phil Kessel - Toronto Maple Leafs 
Jordan Schroeder - Vancouver Canucks

Kessel Signs New Deal, Makes Mark in Opener
On Tuesday, the Toronto Maple Leafs announced former Gopher Phil Kessel signed an eight-year contact extension that will commence at the start of the 2014-15 season. 

How did Kessel celebrate? By tacking on the primary assist for the first goal of the 2013-14 NHL season...that's how. 

"Phil Kessel is one of the premier wingers and elite goal scorers in the National Hockey League today," said David Nonis, Senior Vice President and General Manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs. "He wanted to be a Maple Leaf long term and we're very pleased that Phil will be a part of our core group of players in Toronto until the 2021-22 season."

Kessel, 25, played 48 games for the Maple Leafs in 2012-13, leading the team in goals (20), assists (32), points (52), powerplay goals (5), game-winning goals (4) and shots (161). He ranked seventh in NHL points (tie) and ninth in shots. The native of Madison, Wisconsin also played seven playoff games for Toronto, posting team-highs in goals (4), powerplay goals (tie-1) and game-winning goals (2).

Over the last two seasons, Kessel has accumulated 134 points (57 goals, 77 assists) in 130 games. Only Steve Stamkos (154), Evgeni Malkin (142) and Claude Giroux (141) have more points in that stretch. Only three players have more goals than Kessel's 89 over the last three seasons: Stamkos (134), Corey Perry (102) and Alex Ovechkin (102).

In 504 career NHL games with Boston (2006-07 to 2008-09) and Toronto (2009-10 to present), Kessel has collected 379 points (185 goals, 194 assists) with 139 penalty minutes. The 6-0, 202-pound right-winger has reached the 30-goal plateau four times, posting a career-high 37 goals in 2011-12. Kessel was originally selected by the Bruins in the first round, fifth overall, in the 2006 Entry Draft.

Vanek Named Sabres Captain
Buffalo Sabres coach Ron Rolston officially named former Gopher Thomas Vanek as one of two team captains on Tuesday. Vanek will represent the Sabres as captain for home games. 

"Obviously it means a lot to be representing this great organization with Steve (Ott) and Christian (Ehrhoff)," Vanek told BuffaloSabres.com. "It's an honor, but as I've told the guys, this letter doesn't mean much if we don't do anything as a group. Again it's nice, but it's not where we want to be."

The former Gopher was drafted fifth overall by Buffalo in 2003 and ranks sixth all-time in goals for the franchise and 10th all-time in points. 

"Thomas has been a big part of this organization for a long time. He knows how it ticks," Rolston said. "He wants to have a great year and he also has been really good in camp and in helping our young guys - whether it's on the bench or in the room - develop. That was very important in that decision."

Vanek and the Sabres open the season on Wednesday on the road against the Detroit Red Wings 

Gophers Pegged Fifth in USCHO.com Poll

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A week after being picked fifth in the USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine College Hockey Preseason Poll, the University of Minnesota men's hockey program added another fifth-place preseason ranking today in the USCHO.com Division I Men's Preseason Poll.

The Gophers totaled 660 total points in the preseason poll including one first-place vote.  UMass-Lowell, Miami, Wisconsin and Boston College round out the top five in first through fourth, respectively. 

Coming off the program's 34th NCAA tournament appearance in 2012-13 as well as Minnesota's second-straight WCHA MacNaughton Cup win (fourth in the last eight years), the Gophers embark on the team's first campaign in the new Big Ten Conference in 2013-14. Minnesota hosts an exhibition game against Lethbridge on Oct. 5 at Mariucci Arena before kicking off the regular season on Oct. 11-12 with the Ice Breaker Tournament on home ice. 

Wilcox on USCHO's Watch List

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Go Gophers!Adam Wilcox
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Earlier today, Minnesota sophomore goaltender Adam Wilcox was listed by USCHO.com as one of 10 goalies to watch for the 2013-14. The South St. Paul, Minn., native was named to the Big Ten Conference's Preseason Players to Watch list earlier this month after one of the best rookie seasons in Gopher Hockey history. 

In 2012-13, Wilcox set a new single-season program record with a 1.88 GAA and also tied Kellen Briggs for the Minnesota rookie wins record. As a freshman, the netminder was named Third Team All-Big Ten and helped Minnesota to a share of its second-straight WCHA MacNaughton Cup (fourth in eight years) as well as the program's 34th NCAA tournament appearance. Wilcox ranked second in the nation in wins and third in the NCAA in minutes played at 2,331. 

From USCHO.com...

Heading into his sophomore season, Wilcox stands poised to be the top goaltender in the fledgling Big Ten. In 39 games as a freshman, Wilcox posted 25 wins, three shutouts and a 1.88 goals against average.

He also posted winning streaks of six and five games over the course of the season. The five-game streak carried into the WCHA playoffs.

Wilcox has been named as a player to watch by Big Ten coaches.

"Obviously, he's a good goaltender," one opposing coach said. "Wilcox just had a calming effect on their team. I think he's very competitive, but at the same time, very calm."

Read the whole article on USCHO.com

Minnesota hosts Lethbridge at 7 p.m. this Saturday in exhibition action before opening the 2013-14 regular season the following weekend with the Ice Breaker Tournament. 

Gophers Tabbed Fifth in Preseason Poll

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Full USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine College Hockey Poll

Minnesota will enter the 2013-14 season -- the program's first in the Big Ten Conference -- ranked fifth in the USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine College Hockey Poll, according to a release this afternoon from USA Hockey

Coming off the program's 34th NCAA tournament appearance last season, the Gophers garnered 347 points in the preseason poll, placing Minnesota second among Big Ten school's behind only Wisconsin (third, 364 points). UMass-Lowell ranks first in the nation, according to today's poll, with 484 points followed by Miami in second at 444. Boston College rounds out the top five in fourth at 359 points. 

The USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine College Hockey Poll is conducted each week in conjunction with the American Hockey Coaches Association. The poll includes input from coaches and journalists representing each of the NCAA Division I ice hockey conferences, as well as composite votes from officers of the AHCA and USA Hockey.

Minnesota hosts an exhibition game against Lethbridge on Oct. 5 at Mariucci Arena before kicking off the regular season on Oct. 11-12 with the Ice Breaker Tournament on home ice. 

B1G Hockey Media Day Recap

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Head coach Don Lucia, Nate Condon and Kyle Rau represented the Minnesota men's hockey program at the first-ever B1G Hockey Media  Day on Thursday morning at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn. 

"It's exciting to be here," Lucia said, kicking off the event with an early morning press conference. "It almost seems like in many ways, it's a new job.  It's so fresh this year with entering a new conference, the Big Ten, even though we've played many of the teams over the years, this is the first time we'll be playing each of the Big Ten members four times.  I think it's going to be an exciting year, not only for us, but certainly our fans." 

The Gopher trio arrived early on Thursday morning, sitting down for 1-on-1 interviews with the media as well as spots with television partners ESPN, Big Ten Network and FOX Sports North. To open the day, the Big Ten Conference announced its preseason coaches poll and preseason players to watch list with Kyle Rau being the conference's only unanimous player to watch. The Gophers were selected to finish second in the inaugural season of Big Ten hockey behind Wisconsin with Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State and Penn State filling out the rankings. Gophers sophomores Mike Reilly and Adam Wilcox were also featured as players to watch this season. 

Rau even sat down with GopherSports' Devin Pacheco for a social media Q&A session with fans on Twitter. Here are a few of the top questions/answers for the Gopher captain: 

Minnesota opens the 2013-14 season with an exhibition contest on Oct. 5 at 7 p.m. CT against Lethbridge. The Gophers kick off the regular-season on Oct. 11-12 with the Ice Breaker Tournament at Mariucci Arena. 

Big Ten Announces Coverage for Hockey Media Day

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Go Gophers!Senior captain Nate Condon will be among the players at Big Ten Media Day. 
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Park Ridge, Ill. - Big Ten hockey fans will have several ways to follow their favorite teams, players and coaches as they participate in Big Ten Hockey Media Day on Thursday, Sept. 19 at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.

All six coaches' press conferences will be streamed live on BTN.com. Live streaming begins at 10 a.m. ET/9 a.m. CT and is available for free through the Big Ten Digital Network.

Visit http://www.GopherSports.com/AllAccess for more information. Fans can also follow @B1GHockey on Twitter throughout the day for highlights of the event and are encouraged to use the hash tag #B1GMediaDay to join the conversation. Transcripts of each coach's press conference will be posted on www.bigten.org later that day.

Minnesota to Host Ohio State as Part of Hockey Day Minnesota

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The University of Minnesota men's hockey team will host Ohio State as part of Hockey Day Minnesota 2014 on Sat., Jan. 18, the Minnesota Wild, FOX Sports North and Minnesota Hockey announced today. The Gophers and Buckeyes will face off at Mariucci Arena at 5 p.m. CT with FOX Sports North broadcasting the action along with 1500 ESPN. 

The Gophers are 4-2-1 all-time in Hockey Day Minnesota action and have not lost in their last three appearances. 

Hockey Day Minnesota 2014 falls one day after the 2014 Hockey City Classic at TCF Bank Stadium, providing a full weekend of action for hockey fans across the state of Minnesota. 

The Hockey Day Minnesota 2014 schedule is as follows:

High School Games (at Handke Pit, Elk River)

10:15 a.m. Rochester Lourdes vs. Cloquet/Esko/Carlton (boys)

1 p.m. Elk River vs. Stillwater (boys)

4 p.m. Elk River vs. Anoka girls (*tape delay on FS North) 

College Game (at Mariucci Arena)

5 p.m. Minnesota Golden Gophers men's hockey vs. Ohio State 

Wild Game (at Xcel Energy Center)

8 p.m. Minnesota Wild vs. Dallas Stars

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Go Gophers!Don Lucia
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Gopher Hockey head coach Don Lucia has signed on to run this year's Medtronic Twin Cities Marathon to help raise funds for Defending The Blue Line, a Minnesota-based non-profit that aims to provide hockey opportunities for military families across the country. 

An avid runner throughout the year, Lucia will take part in the 32nd annual event, set for Sunday, Oct. 6 with a start line near the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome in Minneapolis and a finish line near the Minnesota State Capitol in St. Paul. Lucia and the Gophers open the 2013-14 season the following weekend at Mariucci Arena with the Ice Breaker Tournament. 

"We have a great relationship with Defending The Blue Line, and I couldn't be happier to help out with such a great cause," Lucia said. "I've been doing a lot of training, I feel good about the run, and I'm excited to be out there in a few weeks raising money and awareness for Defending The Blue Line."  

Lucia and the Gophers previously helped Defending the Blue Line raise $25,000 through the online auction of the team's game-worn jerseys from the 2013 Hockey City Classic at Soldier Field in Chicago. 

Defending The Blue Line has been accepted as a Twin Cities Marathon Charity Partner for the 2013 race. Fans are can donate to Lucia's cause at the following link (DTBL.org