It was nice to be back at Mariucci Arena today.
Covering this team the last few seasons has beaten me down a bit, and by the end of last season I was fairly burned out. But it’s the start of a new season, and I’m going to try and do things a bit differently this year. I’ll write a recap after games like normal, but for the games/events that I attend (Saturday home games and a few short road trips), I’m going to throw up (figuratively) a blog post with some less than PC talk about what’s going on with our favorite college hockey team/program. As always, I appreciate any kind of feedback, either on the blog posting, to the GPL or my Twitter accounts (@gopherpucklive, @jeffoftos). No time to start like the present.
We’ve all got a certain level of confidence in the ability of the Gophers to compete with anyone, anywhere, at any time. But the way this program has regressed over the last few seasons that confidence just isn’t there (for me) anymore, or maybe a better way of saying it is that it’s not where I want it to be.
Not to jump the gun on anything, but today felt a little different.
Without question, this was the happiest, most energetic and quite honestly – nicest, that I’ve ever seen Coach Lucia.
Don Lucia knows what GPL is and he knows who I and Ryan represent. And he hasn’t always been the most receptive to me (not speaking for Ryan). But he was very outgoing and cheerful today, and took the time to speak to me at length about a couple of topics – mostly in regards to scheduling (more on that in a minute).
Is it because his health is finally back to a 100% type level? Is it because new associate-head coach Mike Guentzel is back controlling the defense and penalty kill – allowing him to focus on what he does best (coaching forwards)?
Ultimately – who knows; generally things like Media Day just get the same old questions and the same canned answers that sports fans expect from players and coaches, leaving it up to us to figure out what they are really talking about. I’m not neither that smart nor perceptive. And again, not to jump the gun or anything here (because we haven’t started anything, and I’ve seen nothing of the team) but to me the vibe was so positive – not only from him but just about everyone I spoke to that’s associated with the program – that there’s no reason this team won’t compete for a top 3 spot in the WCHA this year.
There were a few things today that I took from his comments that should have the most impact on the season (as it stands today).
- He already knows who represents 10 – 12 (5 of the 6 D) of the 18 skaters who will comprise the starting ‘lineup’ (and we’ll see how long that sticks)
- It’s my thoughts (opinion only) that barring injury, Kent Patterson will start just about every game this year
- His comments on defense – saying it starts with the centers first – were very interesting; I wouldn’t have expected him to open up that way about the systems they will run this year
- He’s clearly not a fan of all of the conference merging, but seems to understand that things are going to change and ultimately there’s nothing anyone can do about it
Four players came up and talked to the media (Kent Patterson, Taylor Matson, Nick Bjugstad and Zach Budish). I didn’t talk to any of them and regret it a little bit. I was busy talking to some other people and figured that mostly I’d get some generic type answers. That’s not giving those guys nearly enough credit so for that I’ll do better next time.
One specific topic that I know is important to a lot of GPL followers is non-conference road games. Coach Lucia said to me that ‘they’ (meaning the University) require 20 home games (for the gate receipts), and because of that only really allows one road non-conference series per season. Because the College Hockey Showcase took up that every other season, there almost was no way we could schedule anything else. I brought up how fun it is for fans to see different programs out east, etc. and his comeback was ‘they won’t let me’ schedule anything out of the norm. He seemed fairly excited about the home – and – home series scheduled with Vermont (we’ll travel out there next season), and while he didn’t know exact specifics about things after the Big Ten Conference starts, we’ll still only see one road series per season. He mentioned a round-robin type of schedule with the other D-1 Minnesota schools and sprinkling in North Dakota, Denver and others.
Well, that was a bit longer of an initial blog post than I expected, and kind of rambling. Sorry about that…I hope everyone gets the idea of what I’m trying to start here.
Anyway – I hope everyone enjoys this and we all start the season off on the right foot.