The Gophers held media availability this afternoon and are currently on the ice practicing in preparation for Friday’s exhibition game against the U.S. Under-18 National Team and Sunday’s 1 p.m. game against Canisius of the Atlantic Hockey Association.
Former Gophers national champions Keith Ballard and Paul Martin are around town because they’ve been locked out of their NHL teams. Good thing, too, because the Gophers are suddenly banged up on the blue line. Ballard practiced yesterday; Martin today.
Coach Don Lucia said freshman Brady Skjei is out for the weekend because he is banged up. Lucia said he should be fine to practice by early next week. Junior defenseman Mark Alt is also dinged up. He definitely will be held out Friday and is questionable for Sunday. If unable to play this weekend, Lucia said next weekend vs. Minnesota State is a likelihood.
That means, I’m assuming, that Justin Holl and Jake Parenteau, who have played some forward this season, will play the blue line at least Friday. Lucia did say that barring injuries this weekend, they are leaning toward redshirting sophomore defenseman Blake Thompson.
Also, Kyle Rau has an ankle injury. He won’t play Friday, but Lucia said he is probable for Sunday.
The Under-18 team, (1-4-1 against college teams) which plays at St. Thomas University at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, boasts Hudson Fasching, who has committed to the Gophers, and promoted for the game because of injuries is Vinni Lettieri, the son of Tino Lettieri (Minnesota Kicks and Strikers) and grandson of Lou Nanne, and Connor Hurley. Lettieri has committed to the Gophers, and Hurley is a Gophers recruit. Karson Kuhlman, who hails from Cloquet, is also on his way up.
Thatcher Demko will be starting in net against Minnesota on Friday. Hunter Miska, the son of well-known goalie maskmaker Todd Miska, will be playing against St. Thomas on Saturday. Demko shut out Oswego (fun to say out loud) on Saturday.
Here’s Lucia on a number of subjects:
How do you get ‘up’ for a weekend like this after playing their first road series and first conference series? “There’s still a lot to play for. We’re going to play some guys that haven’t played on Friday night for awhile. They’re going to get their opportunity, and it’s a big opportunity for them because if they don’t show well, they might not get in. … We have our exhibition on Friday and the game counts on Sunday. People say, ‘Well, who’s Canisius?’ You look at their scores, they’ve played four road games so far and tied Alaska, which beat North Dakota this past weekend. They lost to Anchorage, 3-0, and Western Michigan was 2-1, [3-0], and at Western Michigan, who won the CCHA playoff title a year ago. So, they’ll be a good test for us.”
Why have they been so good defensively? “Their goaltending numbers are really good, and I think that’s where it starts (Tony Capobiano and Inver Grove Heights’ Keegan Asmundson). And the one thing you’ve seen is how much that league has improved over the year. We’ve already seen RIT go into Michigan and win. Usually the teams in that league keep their kids for four years, they’re older – a lot of 22-, 23-year-olds – and they’ve played a lot of junior hockey, so they’re seasoned. They’re looking forward to our trip. They’re going to fly in Saturday, go to the football game and play us Sunday and go home, so it’s a great trip for them.”
Winning 600th game? “The talk of 600, you go down memory lane a little bit and you think back to how you did get started and how fun it was. Not many coaches had to run the first half of practice, take off their skates, drive the Zamboni, put their skates back on and run the second half of practice (Alaska-Fairbanks). But those are the things that kind of make it all worthwhile. Obviously you hope to rise up through the ranks. I’ve been fortunate that I’ve had great timing and walked into some good situations. I’ve had a chance to experience it all pretty much at every level and I think that’s what makes it enjoyable, too. You get highs, you get lows, you get the great wins, the devastating losses.”
Most satisfaction? “Just hearing from some of my former players, I think that’s what makes it the most enjoyable. From kids I coached in Alaska, to Colorado College, to here, when you get a little email or a little text from somebody, you hope when it’s all said and done that you’ve had a positive impact on their life and that you help them along the way. Sometimes when you’re coaching kids they don’t quite understand that because maybe they think you’re too tough on them. Then when they get done playing and they look back maybe seven, eight, 10 years later, they grow to appreciate things a little bit more.”
Lucia talked about his great relationship with the late Lefty Smith, his coach when he played defense at Notre Dame.
On the Under-18 team, Lucia is not allowed to talk about any of those players publicly, especially Fasching, Lettieri and Hurley. It’s against NCAA rules.
But generally on getting to see players who may one day play at the U, Lucia said, “There’s no question the U.S. team has got some real high-end talent. They’ve got some guys that are probably going to be first-round draft choices, they’ve played their college teams very strong so far this year, outshooting most of who they’ve played. So, it’s an exhibition, it doesn’t count, but obviously we’re playing to win. We don’t have a lot of extra guys right now, so we’ll probably play 21 players in the game. [Michael] Shibrowski is going to play Friday and [Adam] Wilcox will go Sunday. We’ll keep with the rotation we’ve done all season long. Then after this weekend we’ll sit back and evaluate which direction we want to go.”
Where do you see the goalie situation now after Shibrowski was pulled at Michigan Tech? “They’ve both played well here. Obviously Wilcox outplayed Mike last weekend. So now we’re back home, and we’ll wait and evaluate how they do this weekend.”
Would you lay off your recruits? “No, it’s game on. I don’t think it’s going to be as physical like league action. But hey, it’s a real game. I’m sure their guys are going to be excited to play here, [especially] the couple Minnesota kids that will be playing and the couple kids that aren’t on the team that are from Minnesota that are going to be playing that they’ve brought in because of the injury situation that they do have. I’m sure it’ll be a thrill for those kids, some of who we’re recruiting.”
In lockout news, at the news conference today to announce the Islanders will move to Brooklyn
in 2015, Commissioner Gary Bettman addressed why the league is unwilling to meet with the union and how negotiations will become a lot more difficult after Thursday.