Oct. 5, 2012
The defending MacNaughton Cup champion Minnesota men's hockey program opens the 2012-13 season on Saturday night with an exhibition contest against Lethbridge. The No. 1/2 Gophers' kick off their final season in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association at Mariucci Arena starting at 7 p.m.
Follow The Action Online
Gophersports.com will host a running blog for each and every Gopher hockey game this season. Saturday's contest will be one of two exhibition games this season streamed online via Gopher All-Access. Signing up for a month of service also gives fans access to Minnesota's exhibition game against the U.S. U-18 team on Oct. 26.
Five Things To Know Going Into The Season
1. The 2012-13 season marks Minnesota’s final campaign in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association before joining the Big Ten Conference in 2013-14.
2. After Minnesota’s MacNaughton Cup championship and Frozen Four run in 2011-12, the Gophers return six of their top seven scorers and all six starting defensemen from last season.
3. Breaking down the 2012-13 roster, Minnesota boasts one senior, 10 juniors, eight sophomores and nine incoming freshmen.
5. Minnesota enters the season tied for first (Boston College) in the USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine Preseason Poll and second in the USCHO.com Division I Men’s Preason Poll.
Fifteen of the 28 Gophers have been drafted by an NHL team. Sophomore Nick Bjugstad (19th overall to Florida in 2009) and newcomer Brady Skjei (28th overall to the New York Rangers in 2012) are the lone first-round picks , but Minnesota has three second-round selections in Zach Budish, Mark Alt and Justin Holl. The sophomores pace Minnesota with six drafted players followed by the junior class with five. Three newcomers have been drafted as has Minnesota’s lone senior -- Seth Helgeson.
For the third-straight year, the Gopher hockey team has four players from outside Minnesota. Returning to the team are Wisconsin’s Nate Condon, Colorado’s Tom Serratore, Erik Haula of Finland and Sam Warning of Missouri. 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 Minnesota played for the Gophers.
New Opponent, New Rink
Minnesota will host Canisius of the Atlantic Hockey Association for the first time in program history on Sunday, Oct. 28. The Gophers are 9-2-1 all-time against teams from the AHA including two wins against Sacred Heart last season. Minnesota will also travel to Vermont for the first time for a nonconference series over Thanksgiving -- giving the Gophers their first look at Gutterson Fieldhouse after hosting the Catamounts for the first-ever series last year.
Hockey City Classic
The Gophers will participate in the program’s first outdoor game in the modern era on Sunday, Feb. 17 against Wisconsin at Soldier Field in Chicago. As part of the OfficeMax Hockey City Classic, the Gophers and Badgers will take the ice following a game between Miami and Notre Dame.
Junior forward Nick Bjugstad will return to the Gophers roster after a breakout sophomore season in 2011-12. A Second Team All-American and an All-WCHA First Team member, Bjugstad set career marks for goals (25), assists (17) and points (42). He enters the season as the WCHA Preseason Player of the Year.
With six of the team’s top seven scorers from a year ago returning to the Gophers roster, Minnesota brings back 83 percent of its offensive fire power from last year’s Frozen Four squad. Among the top returners is junior Erik Haula, who led the Gophers with 49 points (20 goals, 29 assists) in 43 games last year. Other returners of note include sophomore Kyle Rau (18-25--43), junior Nate Schmidt (3-38--41), redshirt junior Zach Budish (12-23--35) and junior Nate Condon (11-19--30).
Big Ten Bound
The 2012-13 season marks Minnesota’s final season in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association before moving into the new Big Ten Conference in 2013-14. The Gophers were founding members of the WCHA in 1951 (then called the Midwest Collegiate Hockey League). Joining Minnesota in the Big Ten will be current WCHA foe Wisconsin, former league members Michigan (CCHA) and Michigan State (CCHA), Ohio State (CCHA) and NCAA newcomer Penn State (Independent).
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The Maroon & Gold close out the Border Battle on Saturday at 7 p.m. contest against Wisconsin at Mariucci Arena (FOX Sports North PLUS, 1500 ESPN).