Gophers coach Bob Motzko was begrudgingly looking at the bright side of his team's quick postseason ouster this past season.
"You hate to say it, but the one advantage when you do get knocked out early, you start your offseason training," Motzko said at Wednesday's Coaches Caravan stop in Dellwood. "And our guys have made great gains."
Just how great? Look no farther than freshman phenom Sammy Walker, who was the Big Ten conference's best rookie this year with 10 goals and 16 assists and someone Motzko thinks he can build a program around.
"He came into us, he weighed all of 150 pounds," Motzko told the crowd. "He is now 162."
That elicited a big laugh from the fans. And while it doesn't seem like a lot, that's all happened mostly in the past two months or so. (For the record, Walker is listed at 160 pounds on the official roster, but Motzko had admitted before those numbers might have been a bit ... inflated.)
Motzko will need those rising sophomores to put on some muscle, as the all-freshman line of Walker, Nathan Burke and Blake McLaughlin (and sometimes Sampo Ranta) were the second-best offensive option behind a first line that has now all departed for graduation or the NHL.
All in all, Motzko said he's expecting 19 underclassmen this upcoming season. That includes 12 new recruits. The full list should come in the next two weeks, but Motzko did share his excitement about two. First, forward Ben Meyers out of Delano, who has spent that past two seasons in the USHL. He finished fifth in the league this past season with 65 points.
"He is a 200-pound, 20-year-old freshman: Something that Gophers hockey has needed," Motzko said. "He's going to make an immediate impact on our program."
Motzko also talked up Bryce Brodzinski, another big forward from Blaine who was the best high school hockey player in the country this past season.
As far as returning players, Motzko pointed out soon-to-be senior defenseman Tyler Nanne. Nanne sat out two seasons from 2015-2017 first with concerns about a heart condition and then for transferring from Ohio State to the Gophers. Motzko said it took Nanne about a year-and-a-half to return to a high level of play.
"I felt from Christmas on, Tyler Nanne really started to play like a true Division I athlete. and he's coming back next year for his fourth season, and we're expecting big things," Motzko said. "Tough kid. Can skate. And he's going to help lead our program."
The coach is also looking toward rising juniors Brannon McManus and Scott Reedy. The pair had shoulder surgeries in the summer before this past season and weren't quite their best after it. But Motzko said he can see they're fully recovered from those operations now.
"We have the right pieces," Motzko said. "They're just going to be a little young."