With nine seniors, two early pro signees and one transfer leaving the Gophers men’s hockey team following the 2018-19 season, coach Bob Motzko knew he would have a young roster for his second year as Minnesota’s coach. Just how young became known Wednesday.
The Gophers announced a class of 11 incoming freshmen for 2019-20, a group that includes six forwards, three defensemen and two goalies. A third goalie, Michigan transfer Jack LaFontaine, is expected to be added to the class later this summer. They’ll be called upon to fill some big holes, with Minnesota losing four of its top five scorers and its entire goaltending group from a team that finished 18-16-4.
It’s a talented class, especially on defense. Two signees for the blue line — Ryan Johnson and Jackson LaCombe — are expected to be selected in the first three rounds of the NHL draft on Friday or Saturday.
Johnson, 17, of Irvine, Calif., played for the USHL’s Sioux Falls Stampede last season, collecting six goals and 19 assists and helping his team win the Clark Cup. Johnson’s father, Craig, is a former Gopher and 10-year NHL player. Ryan Johnson is the 33th-ranked North American skater in NHL Central Scouting’s final ratings.
LaCombe, 18, amassed 22 goals and 67 assists in 54 games for Shattuck-St. Mary’s this season, shattering the school single-season record for scoring by a defenseman. The 6-1, 185-pound Chaska native is ranked No. 36 by Central Scouting.
The third blue-liner is Matt Staudacher, 19, of Grand Blanc, Mich., who played the past two seasons for Muskegon of the USHL. The Gophers lost senior Jack Sadek and sophomore transfer Clayton Phillips off the 2018-19 blue line.
Leading the group of incoming forwards is Bryce Brodzinski, who earned Mr. Hockey honors for Blaine this season after collecting 32 goals and 44 assists in 23 games. Brodzinski, 18, is ranked 89th by Central Scouting.
The other forwards are:
• Ben Meyers, 20, a Delano native who had 33 goals and 32 assists for Fargo of the USHL this season and led the Force to the league title in 2018.
• Jaxon Nelson, a Magnolia, Minn., native who played the past three seasons in the USHL. Nelson, 19, had 70 goals and 43 assists in 2015-16 in leading Luverne to the state tournament. He capped his USHL career with 19 goals and 21 assists for Omaha this season.
• Jack Perbix, an Elk River native who 49 points between Green Bay and Des Moines of the USHL this season. Perbix, 18, was a fourth-round NHL draft pick by Anaheim last year.
• Jonny Sorenson, a St. Louis Park native who was NAHL rookie of the year and helped the Fairbanks Ice Dogs reach the league final. Sorenson, 19, had nine goals and six assists for a playoff-best 15 points.
• Noah Weber, an Eagle River, Wis., native and former Shattuck player who spent the past three seasons with Madison and Tri-City of the USHL. Weber, 21, changed his commitment from Air Force to the Gophers after his father, Scott, was killed in a car accident on May 12 near St. Germain, Wis.
The two goalies signed were:
• Jared Moe, a former Holy Family standout who spent the past two seasons with Waterloo of the USHL. Moe, 19 had a 2.29 goals-against average and .919 save percentage in a strong 2017-18 season. He’s a sixth-round NHL draft pick by Winnipeg in 2018.
• Justen Close, who played the past three seasons with his hometown Kindersley Klippers of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League. Close, 21, had a 2.19 GAA and .928 save percentage this season. He won the league’s goalie of the year award the past two seasons.