Gophers coach Don Lucia said one strategy being emphasized early is getting to the net. Jake Hansen, Jay Barriball and other players reiterate the importance of doing that, too.
So it was nice to see the U do just that on Sunday in a 6-0 rout of British Columbia. Four of the six goals were from close-range.
"We have felt we have been too much of a perimeter team in the last couple of years," Lucia said on Wednesday. "We have played too much outside the dots. And so the point of emphasis is trying to get guys to the net.
"In this day and age, if you are going to score goals you have got to get to the blue paint. And in the drills we have done, the emphasis has been, let's get to that area. If guys are not going to get to that area, we are going to try to find somebody who will."
Lucia said determing lines this early in the season is an on-going process.
"There are going to be some changes [from Sunday]," he said. "We are going to have some very difficult decisions from one night to the next to see who is going to play. I couldn't tell you what our lineup is going to be Friday night.
"But I am sure as we go along, there will be injuries along the way. When everybody is healthy, we've got a lot of guys who can play which should provide more competiton and make us better Monday through Thursday [in practice]."
The Gophers this season have four extra forwards and two extra defenseman as well as two extra goalies, which is typical.
Hopefully that competition for spots, Lucia said, will make the Gophers better on Fridays and Saturdays.
THE DON SAYS
* Will freshman forward Tom Serratore play vs. UMass? "Based on what he did on Sunday, he would be a guy that has earned the right to play on Friday night. Not only did he score [one goal] and created a lot, I think he had five shots on goal and threw his weight around a little bit.
"It was a good start for him. But it's one game, it's an exhibition game. We just have to try to continue week by week to get better with this group."
* Will junior goalie Kent Patterson play this weekend? "There is a good chance. I am not going to commit to anybody playing this weekend. I think Alex [Kangas] deserves the right to play on Friday night, our first game, and from then on, from day to day, you earn your ice."
* Thoughts on the three freshmen D-men -- Justin Holl, Mark Alt and Nate Schmidt -- who played Sunday: "Two of them will be playing this weekend. Which ones yet? I don't know. They all showed some good things. They all showed some poise. They made a few mistakes, which you expect. Some of it is just getting experience, so you are not tentative anymore.
"But with both Mark and Justin, they are good size. They have a reach and good feet. Nate is a little more experienced with a year in the USHL."
* Thoughts on the five freshmen forwards -- Erik Haula, Nick Bjugstad, Nate Condon, Tom Serratore and Max Gardiner -- who played against British Columbia: "They all showed some good things. They are not identical players. They are different players, which I think is good."
SCOUTING REPORT: SKIMPY
The Gophers play the University of Massachusetts, located in Amherst, this weekend.
Lucia said UMass coach Don [Toot] Cahoon is a good guy. "He is a BU [Boston University] grad," Lucia said. "He never takes himself too seriously. He is an outstanding coach and their staff. They got raided a little bit by the pros like we did [three top UMass players turned pro early].
"But they have always had a real good team at UMass. [The Minutemen] are a member of Hockey East, so it is a great opening weekend for us with two good teams."
Asked about UMass' senior goalie Paul Dainton, Lucia said he did not know much about him or any other player.
"I don't know much about their personnel," Lucia said, "because they recruit in different areas. Kind of the fun part about playing the opening weekend, they don't have any history, we don't have any history. We played one game years ago up in Alaska."
The Gophers won that game 1-0 in 2004 in a tournament in Anchorage, Alaska, on Ryan Potulny's goal with 31.9 seconds.
"I don't know their personnel," Lucia said. "They don't know our personnel, so we can just go play. Now after Friday's game, we will have some tape on them. They will have some on us.
"But when the game starts on Friday night -- Our emphasis right now is on our team. We are trying to get better. We are trying to do some things to make us more successful on Friday and Saturday night. So we are not really worrying about what our opponent is going to be doing or not doing this week. The preparation is all about us and that's the fun part about opening weekend."
Lucia said the Gophers have made an effort to have an older team.
"We have recruited some kids now that are going to be playing a year or two in the USHL," Lucia said. "They know that going in and we are hoping that we can offset some of the guys who leave quickly, with some older guys that will be here for four years.
"We can't build our team to be where we want it to be if we have nothing but young kids who are going to be gone in two years. You are not reaping any benefit from those guys in their third or fourth year. We have to find that mix with the kids that we are recruiting."
The best examples of those older players Lucia wants are three 21-year-old freshmen on the team now: forwards Serratore and Jared Larson and defenseman Jake Parenteau. Serratore played in the USHL for several seasons, Larson and Parenteau in the NAHL.
Lucia said he hopes they stay four years but its not a certainty. He said he thought defenseman Stu Bickel would be around for a long time, but Bickel turned pro after playing at the U only the 2007-08 season.
"With the group we have now, they are all happy to be here," Lucia said. "We had some guys that could have turned pro this summer that elected to come back, which is great. They have a commitment to this program and they want this program to be successful."
Senior forward Mike Hoeffel and junior defenseman Aaron Ness both decided to stay. The New Jersey Devils own Hoeffel's draft rights, the New York Islanders own Ness'.
""It would be a big hole if we didn't have them; et's be honest," Lucia said. "We took our hit with losing a couple of guys already this summer. You can't continually lose two, three guys a year because [the problem] is not that year, it is the cumulative [effect] after three, four years. That is eight or 10 kids that you are continually going through. It's [important] to find the right mix in this day and age."