Strictly speaking in conference, Minnesota had a down year.
The Gophers had most of their struggles after the New Year, managing to finish one game above .500 and squeaked into the final home ice spot in the playoffs, where they proceeded to sweep St. Cloud before falling to Minnesota-Duluth in the Final Five play-in game. Minnesota also came up short nationally, failing to make the NCAA tournament.
Where does this leave the Gophers coming into this year? All right, all things considered. Despite losing forward and leading scorer Ryan Stoa to early departure (something the team knew was going to happen anyway), the team returns 81 percent of its offense, a decent defensive corps and a goalie who will be entering his third year of WCHA action.
Like several other teams in the league, the Gophers have some senior experience returning, which should help them with an early, tough schedule, where they open up with North Dakota, Denver, Alaska-Anchorage and Wisconsin.
True, the Gophers lost Stoa. However, they got a big boost with the return of sophomore Jordan Schroeder. Schroeder was just one point behind Stoa in the stats column (45 to Stoa’s 46), won the league’s rookie of the year title and is this year’s preseason player of the year.
“Obviously, Jordan, he’s our player,” coach Don Lucia said.
From there, though, they “have to have that secondary scoring like a lot of teams do,” said Lucia.
Lucia will first look to his senior experience, as Jay Barriball, Mike Carman, Ryan Flynn and Tony Lucia all put up decent numbers, as did junior Mike Hoeffel.
If those guys don’t pan out, however, Lucia has a lot of forwards to lean on — 15, to be precise.
“I think we’ll have some pretty good competition about who’s going to be playing night in and night out,” he said. “It’s a unique situation to have.”
One freshman to watch out for is Zach Budish, who is coming in after having a year off due to a knee injury and will, according to Lucia, be in the lineup every night.
On the Blue Line
Minnesota’s biggest returning player defensively is probably junior Cade Fairchild, who was the fourth-highest scorer on the team last season and strong in his own end as well.
Though the Gophers retain almost all of their defensive corps from last season, fans will see some new things in store defensively, according to Lucia.
“The upgrades I think you’ll see on the back line,” he said. “The guys are bigger and stronger and the addition of Nick Leddy and Scott Helgeson I think are going to complement each other well. One’s a puck mover and the other’s a stay-at-home defender with some size, which is something we’ve needed on our blue line from last year.”
Besides Fairchild and the aforementioned freshmen, some of the same familiar faces return, including seniors David Fischer and Brian Schack.
In the Crease
Undoubtedly manning the pipes again for the Gophers will be junior Alex Kangas, who won the starting job halfway through his freshman season. Kangas struggled at times during his sophomore campaign, but one can most likely chalk that up to him playing in his first full season.
Besides Kangas, we’ll probably see sophomore Kent Patterson in a few games here and there throughout the season.