Men's Hockey Media Day
Gophers Embark on Final WCHA Season
Photo by: Craig Cotner
Don Lucia addressing the media.
It’s the end of the WCHA as we know it and Gophers Coach Don Lucia feels fine. The veteran of 20 WCHA seasons as a coach and four as a player will lead his team into the season with few question marks and lots of answers.
The 2012-13 team returns seven of its top nine forwards, including its top three centers Eric Haula, Nick Bjugstad, and Travis Boyd. The team returns seven defensemen from last season and brings in two highly regarded defensive recruits that the coach says have looked the part during early season skates. It’s still to be determined who will take control of the Gopher crease, as neither Michael Shibrowski or Adam Wilcox have the upper hand yet.
Lucia talked at media day about his incoming players, the kind of lineup they would field this year, and shared something that will force fans to pay close attention to the lineup during Saturday night’s exhibition game against Lethbridge.
“We want to make sure that our top 18 players are dressing. If that says that we’re going to move a defenseman up to forward for a period of time, we may do that,” said Lucia. “If we feel that we have a defenseman that would be the odd man out, and can help us up front, then I would think that player would rather be playing up front than not playing at all.”
Lucia also hinted there’s been thought given to redshirting somebody, a rarity in college hockey where most players choose to stay in the USHL an extra season rather then spend the year practicing. So if you are looking for that to happen, check the lineup card for Saturday’s exhibition because it will burn a year of eligibility if a player participates in that game.
One incoming player that won’t likely be sweating the lineup card for Saturday is Mike Reilly. Lucia wasn’t expecting him to come into the program this season, but he’s progressed so much in the last year that they had no choice. “A couple years ago, we didn’t necessarily anticipate that Mike Reilly would be coming in this year,” said Lucia. “But the way he’s progressed, we had to bring him in. He’s certainly ready to be a college hockey player.”
Looking at the skaters will certainly be on the minds of many, but the biggest question mark facing the team this season will be goaltending. The play of Kent Patterson over the first third of the 2011-12 season allowed the rest of the team to find their game. This season the roles will be reversed, as the skaters will try to allow the goalies to find their game.
“Just getting used to different buildings, different atmospheres, better players, a faster game, I think that all comes into play. But the one thing for goaltending is that it’s still stopping a puck,” said Lucia. He later added “at times they’re going to have to make a save, but that’s what they’re on scholarship for too.”
Photo by: Craig Cotner
Zach Budish answers questions from the media.
GOLDEN NUGGETS: Zach Budish noted that over the first month of the season he hopes the team establishes themselves as a hard working team, that’s tough to play against as they start their goal of being the best third period team in the country… Lucia called out Boyd, Christian Isackson, Seth Ambroz, Tom Serratore, and Sam Warning as crucial ingredients to a successful season, noting that it’s going to be tough replacing the 32 goals lost to departing players “The key up front is going to be our freshman to sophomore group,” said Lucia. “They’re going to have to make a step in their development, they’re going to have to make a step in their contributions from an offensive standpoint, and if they’re able to do that, I think that’ll provide us great balance up front…” The outdoor game scheduled at Soldier Field will be one of the coach’s bucket list items, and holds out hope a game will be held at TCF or Target Field but it’ll be decided by the higher-ups… Lucia noted luck was their side last year as the team only lost two man games to injury last season, but also credited strength coach Cal Dietz for the tremendous work he does with the men and women’s programs… Lucia is in favor equipment changes, particularly removing hard caps on pads and changing from the full shield that gives players an invincible or gladiator-like attitude allowing them to play recklessly to a three-quarters shield, but that the changes are still a few years away… When asked about who was the strongest pound for pound Gopher, Bjugstad was at a bit of a loss noting that Budish is a pretty strong guy, but said Ryan Reilly, “he’s a specimen for being a little guy.”
Jeff Oftos contributed to this article
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