Colorado Springs, CO – Minnesota Golden Gophers: Get To Know ‘Em?
Lots of new names and faces dotted the Gopher lineup for their first weekend of action in the 2019-2020 season. This year’s Minnesota Gophers sport 19 underclassmen (11 of which are freshmen), a sophomore captain in Sammy Walker, a wide-open goaltending competition between the three netminders on the team, and loads of opportunities for players to win starting jobs.
Lots of question marks, but the biggest one is this – will they win any games?
Minnesota looked poised to win in their first try Friday at Colorado College, but a third-period blitz by the Tigers punctuated by a late period powerplay tally gave the hometown CC Tigers the 3-2 victory. Saturday night, it was the Gophers’ turn to come back, battling from 3-1 down in the second to tie the game and eventually win it 4-3 in the third.
The two games featured lots of new names – the top line of Sammy Walker centering Nathan Burke and Blake McLaughlin remained intact, and the second line of Scott Reedy centering Sampo Ranta and Brannon McManus should be names fans recognize. The third line was all freshmen, with #39 Ben Meyers, #25 Jack Perbix, and #22 Bryce Brodzinski. The fourth line had freshman #11 Jonny Sorensen skating with Garret Wait and Joey Marooney.
The Gophers started using their freshman defensemen right away, as well, with newcomers Jackson LaCombe (#10), Ryan Johnson (#23) and Matt Staudacher (#55) playing both games, along with Ben Brinkman, Robbie Stucker, Tyler Nanne and Ryan Zuhlsdorf.
Junior transfer Jack LaFontaine started in goal Friday night, while freshman Jared Moe was between the pipes Saturday. It’s unclear if Coach Motzko will ride the hot hand, but he tends to play multiple goalies rather than stick with one like Coach Lucia did.
Minnesota entered the season unranked and predicted to finish fifth in the seven-team Big Ten Conference. Notre Dame (7), Penn State (9), Ohio State (12) and Wisconsin (17) all appear in the week one polls, with three other Minnesota teams (Mankato 2, UMD 3, St. Cloud 11) near the top.
Last year’s Gophers won enough big games to stand a chance of making the NCAA playoffs, but losses to too many bad teams (Sacred Heart, Ferris State) sunk their Pairwise Ranking down below the NCAA bubble. This year’s schedule will provide the same pitfalls and opportunities, with non-conference games against CC, Niagara and Minnesota Duluth before conference play begins in November. The Gophers face North Dakota the Thursday/Friday of Thanksgiving, and come back from the holiday break with a Mariucci Classic field of Bemidji State, St. Cloud State, and Mankato.
The Big Ten looks to be fairly competitive, and if these young Gophers want to compete for a title, they’ll need to grow up fast. Coming up this weekend is a series against Niagara, which will be the Purple Eagles’ first regular-season action of the season. After a rough couple of years in the middle of the 2010s, Niagara was reasonably competitive in 2018-2019, going 17-19-5 under third-year head coach Jason Lammers. The Purple Eagles last made the NCAA tournament in 2012-2013.
The games are Friday/Saturday 7PM puck drops, and can be seen on FSN, streamed on the Fox Sports Go app, and heard on AM1130.