The first Don Lucia Show of the hockey season aired on ESPN1500 on Monday night. Joe Anderson, co-host of a weekly morning show with Judd Zulgad, and Wally Shaver, the longtime voice of Gophers hockey, were on with Lucia.
The players are in shape, Lucia said, adding everyone ran their 200-yard dashes 16 times in the times allotted to them. And they did it on the first try.
Lucia said captain Taylor Matson really pushed the players hard in September with a lot of skating.
All the freshmen played junior hockey, some more than one season, Lucia said. So in age this team is not that young, but the first-year players obviously lack college experience.
TALENT ABOUNDS IN YOUNG, OLD
One of the freshmen is Ben Marshall, a former Mahtomedi standout who played in the USHL last season. “Ben Marshall can come in and help us right away, especially on the power play,” Lucia said.
There will be growing pains for young players.
A key veteran back is senior goalie Kent Patterson. That is probably the most important position in hockey, Lucia said, if Patterson plays well like he did last season the Gophers will have a chance to win every game.
Specialty teams are really important, Lucia said, and the Gophers have put a lot of emphasis on them, especially the penalty kill. He said the Gophers gave up too many goals late on their penalty kills.
Lucia said the 2011-12 teams looks a little quicker and deeper that last season’s team, and has real committed players. “They are extremely enjoyable to be around each and every day so far,” he said.
The player mix is a little different. There are five to 10 players who should develop into real good college players, but may not translate into high-end NHL players.
UMD won an NCAA title with a roster full of good college players last season, Lucia said.
Seems like the Gophers are copying the Bulldogs’ recruiting strategy.
TWO HELD OUT OF EXHIBITION
Sophomore defenseman Nate Schmidt suffered a minor injury about seven to 10 days ago, Lucia said, so that’s why he did not play in the Gophers’ 3-0 exhibition victory over British Columbia on Sunday. He is expected to practice on Tuesday.
Senior forward Nick Larson tweaked something, Lucia said, and was held out of the exhibition as a precaution.
Lucia said he saw a lot of good signs from the Gophers in the exhibition: “We were able to transition the puck quickly, up the rink ... we played with good speed ... we played physical.
"A guy like Jake Hansen, you could see the tempo and speed he was playing with. … We are going to have some good depth. We can keep coming at people and hopefully wear them down.”
Hansen, a senior right wing, had a goal and two assists against the Thunderbirds.
Lucia said 15 to 16 freshmen and sophomores will play when Gophers face Sacred Heart on Friday and Saturday at Mariucci Arena.
"Getting the special teams ready that is going to be the big challenge this week as we head into the first weekend of games," Lucia said.
“[Sacred Heart] is a good opener for us,” he said.
Mike Guentzel is back on Lucia’s staff as an associate head coach. “I knew it would be a seamless transition,” Lucia said. “We spent a lot of time together. We had a lot of success together.”
Lucia said Guentzel is a Gophers alum and has a lot of passion for the program.