The Gophers open the season against Wild prospect and former Shattuck-St. Mary’s star defenseman John Draeger and the Michigan State Spartans this Friday (6 p.m.) and Saturday (8 p.m.).
The Gophers are 101-44-13 all-time against the Spartans, although they’re just 4-4-5 since 2000-01. They were 0-1-1 in East Lansing last season.
Check out Thursday's paper for a feature on Nick Bjugstad.
The Gophers held media access this afternoon, and veteran coach Don Lucia, in search of career win Nos. 598 and 599 this weekend, addressed a few subjects:
On this weekend’s lineup: “We’ll do a lot of experimenting this weekend and probably try to play quite a few guys from Friday to Saturday night before we go to Michigan Tech the next weekend and we’re limited to who we can take. Both goalies will play this weekend, and this is the first weekend we can start to find out more about our team.”
Do you expect to rotate goalies Michael Shibrowski and Adam Wilcox the first couple weeks? “At least that’s the plan right now. You look at October with this weekend, going to Houghton and then I think we have the U.S. [Under-18 Team] and Canisius, I think if you asked me today, more than likely we’d probably split the first three weekends and then head into November and see where we’re at. But I think it’s important to see your goaltenders at home, it’s important to see how they react on the road and then if they both play well, they’ll continue to play. I’ve had teams where we’ve rotated goalies all season long – I mean, right to the end – and I’ve had other years like last year where the goalie played every night. We’ll have to wait and see how that plays itself out.”
Do you look at Zach Budish playing with Erik Haula this year as opposed to last year when he played with Nick Bjugstad and Kyle Rau, and if so, how’d you come to that decision? “We looked at it as Erik’s a good player, too, and sometimes Erik gets kind of forgotten. Everybody talks about Nick, but Erik did lead our team in scoring a year ago. When we looked at our team this year and who we felt the top four forwards were, we felt with Rau and Bjugstad and Haula and Budish. Well, if we can do it, it’d be nice to have two on two different lines rather than three on one. We could move [Nate] Condon up, but I liked the way Condon and [Travis] Boyd played together at the end of last year. It gives us a lot of comfort if we can spread the guys out a little bit with three lines that we can go into a game and really not worry which line’s out against who. So that’s why we’re trying Christian [Isackson] up there with [Bjugstad and Rau]. Obviously it worked well in that first game [with a hat trick], but he’s a guy that has to step forward and show us that he can play with those two. He’s got the skill. He can make some plays. He has to continue to learn to play at a pace and compete on pucks. He did a nice job of that in Game One, but now he’s got to continue to do that.”
(Lucia said he may continue to juggle things around, but right now, Sam Warning will play with Budish and Haula; Lucia noted that Seth Ambroz played with Haula in junior hockey, so that’s always a possibility, too).
Have you made a decision if you’ll redshirt Blake Thompson? “No, we have not. We don’t have to make a decision yet. We’ve talked to him about that, so it is an option. But it’s an option we don’t have to worry about for a few weeks. We’ll see where we’re at injury-wise, we’ll see where we’re at personnel-wise. Today, I think we feel comfortable with nine or 10 of our forwards in our lineup. Now the question becomes what else do we do with Forward 11 and 12? We got some freshmen, we’ve got Jared Larson, do we move a defenseman up? Those are some things that we’re going to keep experimenting with because I don’t want to have a guy sitting out that could help us even if it’s a defenseman that has to move up.”
On being the preseason No. 1? “Last year we were No. 6 in the league, so what does it really mean? I think they should start taking polls after Thanksgiving when people have actually had a chance to play a game. You don’t see preseason polls in the NHL, ‘Here’s 1 through 30.’ You know, how do you know? Let’s play some games. Some teams are going to get rated higher than they should and others lower than they should because you really don’t know. We’re rated where we are because of how we finished last year – good or bad. But we have to prove it. We haven’t proven anything yet.”
On his health: “I just got my last thing back from the Mayo today that I’m good to go, and everything came back great.”
More from Star Tribune
More from Russo's Rants
Wild coach Mike Yeo continued to talk about the progress his team has made in recent games, but understands that people are frustrated when the progress doesn't result in victories.
Alex Ovechkin's hat trick helped hand the Wild its seventh consecutive home loss.
The Caps are the best team in the NHL, and goalie Braden Holtby has been the winningest goalie in the league. So the Wild would be facing quite a challenge, even if it was playing well.
Wild coach Mike Yeo, whose team faces Washington on Thursday, knows the pressure is on and he's been spending a lot of time meeting with general manager Chuck Fletcher. "That's the life of a coach in the NHL," Yeo said.
Thomas Vanek's overtime mistake proved costly as the Wild fell for a sixth straight game and 11th time in 12 games.