Minnesota enters its 92nd season of collegiate hockey with a 1655-942-171 record. The Gophers were 28-14-1 a year ago and returned to the Frozen Four for the 20th time in program history. Minnesota also captured the MacNaughtonCup(regular season WCHA champion) for the first time since the 2006-07 season. The Gophers return 19 players from last year's program including 83 percent of its scoring. Six of Minnesota's top seven scorers return including last year's leading scorer Erik Haula (20-29--49). 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). The biggest question mark entering the season for Minnesota will be goaltending as junior Michael Shibrowski and freshman Adam Wilcox will compete for the starting gig after All-American Kent Patterson graduated in the offseason.
Minnesota vs. Michigan State
Minnesota and Michigan State have a long and storied history with both programs having been members of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association and now both moving to the Big Ten Conference in 2013-14. The Gophers own a 101-43-12 overall record against the Spartans although recent history has been favorable to both teams (Minnesota is 4-4-5 against the Spartans since 2000-01). The two teams played a pair of games in East Lansing last season with Michigan State picking up a 4-3 win on Friday before the two teams tied 4-4 in overtime the next night. Both teams reached the NCAA tournament last season with suprising results. Minnesota -- picked to finish sixth in the WCHA a year ago -- turned heads by reaching the team's 20th Frozen Four after winning its regional against Boston University (7-3) and North Dakota (5-2). Minnesota suffered a 6-1 loss to eventual national champion Boston College in the NCAA Frozen Four semifinals. Michigan State, meanwhile, picked up an at-large bid to the national tournament, but was upset 3-1 in the first round by Frozen Four-bound Union.
Minnesota kicked off its final season in the WCHA with a 7-0 exhibition win over Lethbridge last Saturday night. Christian Isackson led the way for Minnesota -- starting the game off with a natural hat trick -- while 12 Gophers tallied points in the win. The Gophers outshot the Pronghorns 65-16 in the contest while Minnesota went 3-for-8 on the power play and 5-for-5 on the penalty kill.
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. Depth Returning 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).
Turn On The TV...
Thirty-four of Minnesota's 36 regular-season games will be available on television in 2012-13 with the Gophers' two away games at Alaska Anchorage being the only exceptions. FOX Sports North will broadcast 28 games this season with newly announced Doug McLeod on the call. McLeod was the Gophers original play-by-play announcer before moving on to a broadcasting career in the NHL. The Big Ten Network will air six additional games this season featuring the Gophers including the OfficeMax Hockey City Classic matchup against Wisconsin at Soldier Field
...Or The Radio
All 36 regular-season games will be heard on the Gopher Radio Network with Wally Shaver and Frank Mazzacco on the call. 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.
Minnesota features three brothers on its roster this year as Connor, Mike and Ryan Reilly will all be incoming freshmen in 2012-13. Two of the brothers (Connor and Ryan) are twins while Mike is two years younger. Additionally, their father, Mike, played for the Gophers from 1979-81 and was drafted by the Montreal Canadiens in 1977. Their sister, Shannon played college hockey at Ohio State from 2006-10.
Minnesota head coach Don Lucia needs just three wins to reach the 600-victory plateau. Lucia -- in his 26th year as a Division I head coach -- currently sits with a 597-328-83 career record and a 318-173-54 record in 13 seasons with the Gophers. With three more wins, Lucia would become just the ninth head coach in college hockey history to reach 600 wins.
For the second year in a row, junior Erik Haula enters the season as Minnesota's top returner. The forward tied for third on the team with 24 points (six goals, 18 points) as a freshmen and had a breakout season last year as a sophomore when he more than doubled his point production (20-29--43).
Big Ten Preview
Two games this weekend against the Spartans are the first of six total games against future Big Ten opponents. Minnesota will also play four contests against Wisconsin this season. Minnesota is 396-248-47 all-time against teams that will compete in the Big Ten next season. As a WCHA rival, Minnesota has played Wisconsin most frequently -- owning a 155-86-20 overall record against the Badgers. Minnesota is 128-117-14 against Michigan, 101-44-13 against Michigan State and 12-1-0 against Ohio State. The Gophers have never met Penn State (in first year of NCAA competition).
One of Minnesota's biggest losses over the offseason has to be goalie Kent Patterson, who earned Second Team All-America honors in his final year with the Gophers. This year, Minnesota will have new blood in goal as junior Michael Shibrowski and freshman Adam Wilcox will battle for playing time. Shibrowski received the starting nod in last weekend's exhibition win over Lethbridge -- making nine saves in just under 30 minutes of work. Wilcox maintained the combined shutout by closing out the game with six saves of his own.