Hey college hockey fans. Thanks for spending your afternoon with me. Let's get this thing underway.
Michaelson has been in a battle for a spot on the fourth line all year. Unfortunately for him, like Isackson and Ryan Reilly, there are 12 well-rounded forwards ahead of them. The current fourth line of Connor Reilly, Gabe Guertler and Vinni Lettieri locked up their spots over the last several weeks.
Goaltender Matt LaPrade picked up an injury before he ever suited up in a Gophers uniform and decided to hang up the skates. Ryan Coyne was a late addition to the roster to fill his void.
For the Star Tribune, I was the preps enterprise reporter before taking over the Gophers men's hockey beat. That included the nation's best high school state tournament at Xcel Energy Center.
Before coming to the Star Tribune, I covered Los Angeles professional and college (USC and UCLA) sports for the Antelope Valley Press.
All season the Gophers players and coaches have emphasized that Adam Wilcox is their best player. If there was every any doubt, Saturday's 6-2 loss (without Wilcox in the net) to Michigan reminded us of that. He continues to keep the Gophers in games and give them a chance to win. The Big Ten got it right by naming him the Player of the Year. The Gophers would be a very different team without him.
There is always that possibility the Gophers lose players seeking more ice time. Christian Horn left the team early in the season for the USHL and has since committed to St. Lawrence. My guess is A.J. Michaelson might be a candidate. Isackson would be a senior next year, so probably not. And Ryan Reilly is committed to the Gophers program.
Well, we gotta start with the Gophers, right? ... but in all seriousness: Boston College, Gophers, Wisconsin (pending which regional they're placed in), Union. Others on the bubble pending regional placements...St. Cloud State, Notre Dame, Ferris State.
After Don's success this season, I believe he's feeling comfortable in his job. He's touched on he is fully healthy again and starting to rebuild his program with "program guys," meaning they're committed to staying for at least three years and develop at the college level before going pro.
Guenztel continues to do a great job with the Gophers defensemen. Though they have very different personalities and coaching styles, the two really compliment each other. There are no signs of a Lucia retirement anytime soon, though. And his Big Ten Coach of the Year honor and three straight regular-season championships don't put him in position to be fired.
Thanks, Tivo. I appreciate it. As for who the Gophers will lose after the season, it's tough to say this year. Lucia thinks no one on the team has really proven themselves to be ready for the next level. And if you've watched their games, there really is no superstar, other than Wilcox. Guys that might consider it, Wilcox, Boyd, Rau, Ambroz....I don't think Mike Reilly or Brady Skjei will leave. If I had to guess, most the team will be back next year.
The D-men are playing for their spot in the lineup throughout the week at practice. While Brodzinski was hurt, the six remaining defensemen really played well together and Lucia and Guentzel couldn't ignore that. Upon Brodzinski's return, Lucia said it would be a very difficult job to keep one of the seven D-men out of the lineup each night. He liked the competition it created at practice, though. Everyone agrees, though, Bischoff and Brodzinski have bright futures.
Michigan has to win at least one game this weekend in the Big Ten tournament to be keep their status as a bubble team. A couple weeks ago it looked like three teams - Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota - would all make it. Now it might only be two. The conference needs MIchigan to rally and earn a third spot. Who knows, though, one of the bottom three seeds could have a hot weekend and earn the automatic bid.
Kloos has been a big part of the Gophers' success this season. I think his hot and cold spurts, scoring wise, kept him from the All-Freshmen Big Ten Team. He did earn two Big Ten weekly honors throughout the season. He'll get some love in a feature I'm writing on Friday. Great player, though, who gets a lot of accolades among his teammates.
Well, they got the new video scoreboard and sound system last season, which was a nice upgrade. I've heard they want to make the ice sheet smaller and get a new elevator among other improvements. The big improvements I think will come as part of the big athletics improvement initiative that Teague put in place and Lou Nanne is helping raise money for.
St. Cloud State is very good. Lucia said they were one of the best three teams the Gophers played out of conference this season. That's a nice compliment considering their stacked non-conference schedule. The Gophers strength of schedule is ranked No. 1 in USCHO's RPI. The Huskies have good speed and a lot of experience from last year's Frozen Four team.
More detail on this upgrades...Funds still need to be raised, but they want to improve the team areas (weight room, locker room). Rink size is still in discussion, but would make sense. With the new arenas/renovations going up around the college hockey scene, the Gophers staff says its team areas are now among the lower half of the Big Ten. Mariucci Arena as a whole, arguably still provides the best atmosphere in the college hockey, though.
A lot of fans have touched on how the Gophers missed out on Tyler Nanne, especially after he scored four goals in one game during the Minnesota boys' hockey state tournament. I think the Gophers have a very specific type of player they want going forward and for whatever reason they didn't have many discussions with Tyler Nanne. He will definitely help Ohio State's program, though. They continue to attract some high-scoring talent.
People have been wondering about this since before the puck dropped for this season. Jennifer Heppel, the Big Ten's associate director overseeing men's hockey, said discussions are always taking place, but making it happen is a different story. If the popularity of Big Ten hockey spikes, I assume other institutions will want in. From coaches and other league personnel, they'd like to see Nebraska, Illinois and possibly Northwestern join in the near future. All have solid hockey talent to pull from and shouldn't have problems finding facilities to run the program.
Because St. Cloud State lost in the first round of the NCHC playoffs, there is actually a good chance St. Cloud State is assigned to the West Regional. Before the Huskies bad finish, there was talk they would be a No. 1 seed. Now they might get thrown into the mix with the Gophers. A regional lineup of North Dakota, St. Cloud State, Mercyhurst or Providence and the Gophers could draw well.
Upsets are what fans like, right? That's what makes the men's basketball tournament so exciting. Last year we had Yale, UMass-Lowell, Quinnipiac and St. Cloud State, with Yale winning it all. I bet a lot of people didn't pick them to win it, but it shows more parity in college hockey these days.
Some breaking news for our guests...Gophers goaltender Adam Wilcox is a Mike Richter Award finalists. Not much a surprise with his great year. I would guess he'll be a Hobey Baker Award finalist as well. We'll find out on Thursday.
I've heard a lot of good things about Nebraska-Omaha. Heard they pack out their arena and the community really rallies around this hockey program. It's for this reason many thing Nebraska would have no time starting up a men's hockey program and joining the Big Ten. The NCHC will continue to attract players that don't care about the major conference allure of the Big Ten. If we're strictly talking hockey, NCHC is one of the best.
It'll take time, but I think WCHA fans will heal. The Big Ten and NCHC will really increase college hockey's national exposure and in turn that means more kids playing and more interest in the game and better college hockey in the future, right? I think if the Big Ten can add some teams, at least two, they'll find a good system to work with and create new excitement for the game.
Everyone is implying the Hobey Baker is Johnny Gaudreau's to lose. He's been unstoppable this season and could lead Boston College to a national championship. He had 69 points (32 goals, 37 assists)...that's almost a goal and assist a game. Wilcox will give Gaudreau a run, but it'll be tough to beat him.
Alright, time for one last question. ... I'll be sitting down with Michael Rand to preview the Big Ten tournament at 3:30.
In most cases, not having a go-to guy that can carry you late in the game is a big concern, but the Gophers have that in Adam Wilcox in the net. Wilcox allows the well-rounded effort in front of him to remain confident knowing they'll have a chance to win every night. Rau scored a big game-winner in OT at Michigan and Warning has showed signs of being clutch, so if these two guys get hot it should alleviate any concern. That could be the difference in whether they make a championship run or not.
Well, that's it for now. Thanks for taking time to chat. It's been fun. If you have any other questions, please email them to me and check out my Ice Gold blog.