By: Kate Butler
The first Gopher Hockey Media Day of the season was held today at Mariucci Arena. Head coach Don Lucia spoke with the press about the upcoming season, new and returning players, and the WCHA. The 2012-2013 season will be the last that the Gophers are a part of the WCHA, as next year they will be moving into The Big Ten. While this is an exciting prospect, Lucia calls it “a little bittersweet,” as this marks his 20th year coaching in the WCHA. With the excitement of a new scoreboard at Mariucci, and seven of their nine top forwards returning, as well as all six starting defensemen, Lucia says the team is more focused on maintaining the drive from last year.
After graduating so many seniors last Spring, the Gophers roster has only one senior, ten juniors, eight sophomores, and nine incoming freshman. Lucia believes “experience and numbers” are going to be a very strong asset to the team this year, and is ready to make sure their top 18 players are dressed. Part of the “experience” he’s talking about falls on the shoulders of the captains this year, all returning players, who are led by redshirt junior Zach Budish. Budish’s alternate captains are senior Seth Helgeson and junior Nick Bjugstad.
The Gophers enter their season tied for first with Boston College in the USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine Preseason Poll, something Budish says he isn’t paying much attention to, as so much can change in the regular season. With only two hours of ice time allowed per week in the preseason, it’s hard for a coach to be able to tell which players have made huge improvements. However, Lucia did hint at already seeing some big potential in a number of his players, especially Travis Boyd, Erik Haula, and Nick Bjugstad. According to Lucia, the recipe for team success is “when your best players are good workers.”
The Gophers will play their first exhibition game this Saturday against Lethbridge, but most of the talk is surrounding their season opener against Michigan State. Some players left the game against Michigan State last Thanksgiving with a bad taste in their mouths, making them all the more eager to ice off with the Spartans again.