In The Beginning... Minnesota enters its 91st season of collegiate hockey with a 1627-928-170 record. The Gophers were 16-14-6 a year ago and had their season end in the first round of the WCHA playoffs after placing fifth in the WCHA regular season with a 13-10-5 record. The Gophers return 19 players from last year’s team (including sophomore transfer Chris Student) and welcome seven freshmen and sophomore transfer Michael Shibrowski into the fold. Minnesota lost four of its top scorers from last season and sophomore Erik Haula (6g-18a) is the team’s leading returning scorer with 24 points. Seniors Jake Hansen (11 goals) and captain Taylor Matson (10 goals) are the team’s top returning goalscorers. Sophomore Nick Bjugstad ended his freshman year with 16 points in his final 16 games. Senior goaltender Kent Patterson was named All-WCHA Second Team a year ago after recording the second-best save percentage in school history (.920) and the eighth-best goals-againse average (2.49).
Minnesota vs. Sacred Heart Minnesota and Sacred Heart have never played one another. However, the teams did share a common opponent last year in Union. Sacred Heart fell to Union 9-0 and 7-3 on the road on Oct. 8-9. The Gophers were felled by the No. 12 Dutchmen 3-2 in overtime in the Mariucci Classic on Dec. 31. Minnesota and Sacred Heart have one common opponent this year. Sacred Heart faces Niagara in a home-and-home series on Nov. 26-27. The Gophers host Niagara on Dec. 30 in the Mariucci Classic.
About the Pioneers Sacred Heart won their lone exhibition game 5-4 last Sunday against Ryerson. In a game that featured 68 penalty minutes, the Pioneers got goals from Matt Gingera, Tye Lewis, Alex Stuart, Eric Delong and Drew George. Gingera is Sacred Heart’s leading scorer. The senior led the Pioneers with 21 goals last year, which is the third most ever in a single season at Sacred Heart. Gingera enters this year with 76 career points (44g-32a). Junior Steven Legatto started 27 games in net last year for the Pioneers. He had an .887 save percentage and 4.67 goals against average for the season, but made 40 or more saves in five games and 30 or more in 19 games. He stopped 21 of 24 shots in two periods against Ryerson. Freshman Andrew Bodnarchuk could also see action between the pipes this weekend. He earned the win against Ryerson after turning aside 10 of 11 shots in the third period.
Welcome Back Mike There is a new, yet familiar face, on the Gopher bench this season. After three years away, former Minnesota player and assistant coach Mike Guentzel rejoined the Gopher staff on July 13, 2011, as Associate Head Coach. Guentzel, who played defense for Minnesota from 1981-85 and served as an assistant coach for the Gophers from 1994-08, comes back to the Maroon and Gold staff after one year as an assistant coach at Nebraska Omaha during the 2010-11 season. From 2009-10 he was the head coach and general manager of the USHL's Des Moines Buccaneers, and he was an assistant coach at Colorado College from 2008-09. Guentzel helped lead the Gophers to back-to-back national championships, to five NCAA Frozen Fours and to 11 NCAA tournament appearances during his previous tenure as a member of Minnesota’s staff. The Gophers won more than 350 games, four WCHA playoff championships and three regular season championships with Guentzel on the bench. He coached two Hobey Baker Memorial Award winners, 13 All-Americans and 23 eventual National Hockey League players.
Exhibition W Minnesota won its lone exhibition game of the year 3-0 against the University of British Columbia on Sunday night at Mariucci Arena. The Gophers have now played British Columbia four straight years and have won all four meetings. Minnesota has outscored the Thunderbirds 18-2 in its four wins.
Shooting Stars Minnesota attempted 93 shots on Sunday against UBC, putting 44 of them of goal. UBC blocked 22 shots, while the Gophers missed the net with 26 shots as well. One shot, by captain Taylor Matson, hit the pipe. Minnesota attempted more than 93 shots twice last season as they took 96 shots at Michigan Tech (Nov. 19) and against Alaska Anchorage (Jan. 28) at homes.
Zero Is Not A Lot The Gophers allowed zero shots in the first period against British Columbia and only 10 for the entire game. Senior Kent Patterson (three saves) and sophomore transfer Michael Shibrowski (seven saves) combined for the preseason shutout.
Hands On Senior Jake Hansen, who is Minnesota’s leading returning goalscorer with 11, had a hand in all three Gopher goals on Sunday. He put Minnesota up 1-0 just 85 seconds into the exhibition and then had the lone assist on Erik Haula’s third-period goal. Hansen also had the secondary assist on Blake Thompson’s empty-net goal with 1.1 seconds left in the game.
Fresh Faces The Gophers notched eight points against British Columbia and four of those came from freshmen. Forward Sam Warning had two assists, while defensemen Ben Marshall had a helper and Blake Thompson had an empty-net goal.
New Opponents Minnesota will face two opponents it has never played against in 2011-12. One of them is Sacred Heart, who the Gophers play this weekend to open the season. Sacred Heart plays in Atlantic Hockey and the Gophers are 6-2-1 all-time against teams from Atlantic Hockey. The other team who Minnesota will face this year that it has never played is Vermont of Hockey East. Vermont comes to Mariucci Arena for games on Oct. 21 and 23. The Maroon and Gold are 80-47-7 all-time against Hockey East opponents. Vermont is the only team in Hockey East that Minnesota has never played.
Young Bunch Sixteen of Minnesota’s 27 players are either true sophomores (9) or freshman (7). Add sophomore transfers Chris Student and Michael Shibrowski and redshirt sophomore Zach Budish and the Gophers have 19 players who are underclassmen eligibility wise. The youth of the team is especially evident on the blueline, where the Gophers’ eight defensemen are made up of one junior, five sophomores and two freshmen.
Player Ages The Minnesota hockey team is younger than it was last year, but not by much. The average age of the Gophers’ 2010 Opening Night roster was 20 years, 357 days. The team that will open against Sacred Heart on October 7 will have an average age of 20 years, 343 days. Twenty-four-year-old Joey Miller, UM’s oldest player, is six years and three days older than 18-year-old Travis Boyd, the team’s youngest player.
NHL Draft Seventeen of the 27 Gophers have been drafted by an NHL team. Sophomore Nick Bjugstad is the lone first-round pick (19th overall to Florida in 2009), but Minnesota has four second-round selections in Nico Sacchetti, Zach Budish, Mark Alt and Justin Holl. Six sophomores have been drafted, while the senior and freshman classes have five selections. Freshmen Kyle Rau, Seth Ambroz, and Travis Boyd were taken in the 2011 Draft in June.
Out-of-state Players Just as in 2010-11, this year’s Gopher hockey team has four players from outside of Minnesota. Returning to the team are Wisconsin’s Nate Condon, Colorado’s Tom Serratore, and Erik Haula of Finland. Joining the squad is Missouri-native Sam Warning, who replaces Ohio’s Jacob Cepis as the team’s fourth non-Minnesotan. The last time Minnesota’s roster had more than four players from outside the state was during the 2005-06 season when six players from outside of Minnesota played for the Gophers.
Captain Matson Although he finished the season injured for the third straight year, Taylor Matson proved what kind of player he could be in 2010-11. Matson notched six goals and two assists in a nine-game stretch from the end of October through late November. He finished the season with a career-high 10 goals, which is the second most among returning players. In addition to emerging as an offensive threat, Matson was also one of the team’s top penalty-killers. Matson will serve as the team’s captain in 2011-12 after his teammates voted him into the position at the conclusion of last season. He will be the 149th player to assume the role of either captain or assistant captain for Minnesota.
Elder Statesman The early departure of Aaron Ness and the graduation of Cade Fairchild and Kevin Wehrs make Seth Helgeson the most experienced defenseman on the Minnesota roster in 2011-12. The lone member of the team’s junior class is the only returning player that suited up for all 36 of the team’s games last season (Jacob Cepis also played all 36 games). While he may not produce a lot of points, Helgeson brings a physical presence to the Gopher blueline—his 66 penalty minutes led the team in 2010-11. His plus/minus rating of +7 led all team defensemen and he also managed to put up six assists in the final 26 games of the year after going the first 41 games of his collegiate career without a helper.
Budish Is Back After missing his senior hockey season in high school because of a knee injury suffered during football season, Zach Budish proved that he did not lose touch with the game by tying for seventh in scoring on the 2009-10 Gophers with 17 points and earning a spot on the team’s top line. The Nashville Predators second-round draft pick was on pace to almost double his point total last season with six points in the first seven games, but he injured his other knee in a moped accident and missed the remainder of the season. Budish was granted a medical redshirt, giving him sophomore eligibility again this season.
Caged Kent Kent Patterson is expected to get the bulk of playing time between the pipes for the Gophers this season. The senior was named to the All-WCHA Second Team last year as a junior. Patterson was the first Gopher to be honored on an All-WCHA team since Ryan Stoa (first team) and Jordan Schroeder (second team) were recognized after the 2008-09 season. He was the first Minnesota goaltender to be named to a postseason All-WCHA team since Adam Hauser (third team) after the 2000-01 season. Patterson led the WCHA with a .926 save percentage and was second in the league with a 2.31 goals-against average. His 67.4 winning percentage was third best in the league and his 13 WCHA wins tied him for third most in the league. Patterson recorded WCHA wins against Alaska Anchorage, Bemidji State, Colorado College, Denver, Michigan Tech, Minnesota-Duluth, North Dakota, St. Cloud State and Wisconsin. The only WCHA team that he played against and did not beat was Minnesota State (0-1-0). Patterson, who played in 30 games, recorded a .920 save percentage for the season tying him with Jack McCartan (.920 save percentage in 15 games in 1956-57) for the second-best mark in school history. Alex Kangas recorded a .930 save percentage in 2007-08 while playing in 31 games.
Home Cooking? Minnesota finished last year with a 9-10-3 record (.477 winning percentage) at fabled Mariucci Arena. It was the first time since the arena opened in 1993 that the Gophers ended the year with a below .500 mark at home. Minnesota’s next closest winning percentage at Mariucci Arena was .525 which happened in 2009-10 (10-9-1 record) and 2007-08 (9-8-3). The Gophers best season at Mariucci Arena came in 1995-96 when the team went 18-2-0 for a .900 winning percentage.
Preseason Picks And Rankings Minnesota is picked to finish sixth in the WCHA by the coaches and the media. The Gophers are ranked No. 19 by USCHO.com and are unranked in the USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine poll.
Turn On The TV... Thirty-two of Minnesota’s 37 games will be televised this year. FOX Sports North will show 28 games live, while the Big Ten Network will air four games. All 32 games will be broadcast live. The five games that are not being televised are Oct. 8 against Sacred Heart, Oct. 28-29 at Alaska Anchorage and both Mariucci Classic games on Dec. 30-31. The Sacred Heart and Mariucci Classic games will be streamed online in the All Access section of GopherSports.com.
...Or The Radio All 37 regular-season games will be heard on the Gopher Radio Network, with at least 33 games broadcast on new flagship 1500 ESPN Twin Cities. In addition, every game will be able to be heard for free on GopherSports.com. Fans will also be able to listen to games on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities via the station's mobile application. Three games will air on Praise FM-95.3. Those games are Nov. 11 at Wisconsin, Jan. 28 at St. Cloud and Feb. 18 against Bemidji State. The station for the Feb. 25 game at Nebraska Omaha will be announced shortly.