Gophers coach Don Lucia said the big rules change being discussed at the American Hockey Coaches Association's meeting last week in Naples, Fla., was whether college hockey should switch from full facemasks to half shields.
"We won't know if it will happen until this summer," he said on Thursday, on the phone from his office at Mariucci Arena. "Hopefully, it will. The players and coaches want it. The facemask protects against eye injuries, but in some ways [the half-shields] will make the game safer. Players might have to get extra stitches in their chin. But I will trade that to prevent more serious injuries."
Those arguing to get rid of facemasks are saying they make players feel invincible and contribute to hits to the head.
The college hockey rules committee will meet from June 6-8 in Indianapolis to consider new rules for this season.
The NCAA Committee of Competitive Safeguards also has to approve the change, according to several sources.
STILL WAITING ON NICK
Sophomore center Nick Bjugstad still has not made a decision on whether he will sign a pro contract with the Florida Panthers or return to the U. The Panthers took him in fhe first round of the 2010 NHL draft, No. 19 overall, before he started college.
"He is not in any big hurry," Lucia said. "I ave not talked to him since the season ended. I still have to do end-of-the-year meetings with him and other players. I will be doing that in the next couple weeks."
A source close to Bjugstad said last month that he plans to make a decision after his spring semester ends. That will probably be sometime next week.
If Bjugstad returns, the Gophers will have nine of the their 12 forwards back who played in the Frozen Four and all six of their defensemen. The big hole is finding a replacement for senior goalie Kent Patterson.
OUTDOOR GAME ALMOST SET
The U of M, Lucia said, still has not signed a contract to play in an outdoor doubleheader in Chicago on Feb. 17. At least not to his knowledge, he said.
"It's close," he said. "It looks like it will happen. We are more than willing to do it. It's more up to Wisconsin, they have to give up a home game."
The Badgers have returned to a signed contract to the organizer of the doubleheader at Soldier Field, prompting news stories last week in the Wisconsin State Journal that it was a done deal.
Not so, said a spokesperson for Intersport, the Chicago-based organizer of the event, although he was optimistic it would happen.
"I had lunch with the seniors this week and they were saying, 'Everything happens when we leave,' " Lucia said. "It will be a once in a lifetime experience."
A columnist for the Daily Cardinal, Wisconsin's student newspaper, questioned why the Badgers are playing outdoors in Chicago. The column is here.
The Gophers' 2012-13 schedule came out recently.
"We did not play Denver and Duluth at home last season," Lucia said, "so it is a very attractive schedule."
The Gophers play DU and UMD late in the season. They also have interesting home series against Michigan State and North Dakota. Then there is their holiday tournament. One of the teams in it is NCAA champion Boston College.
Also on the home schedule is a single game with Notre Dame on Jan. 5. This time it is not the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame Game. The Fighting Irish, Lucia said, play the Gophers only once this season because they only had an opening for one game.
In the following three seasons, Lucia said, the Irish and the Gophers will play two-game series.
The one game with Notre Dame left the Gophers with one game left on their schedule, and they filled it with Canisius on Oct. 28.
Lucia said he plans to travel to Humboldt, Saskatchewan, for part of the RBC Cup, the national Junior A championship of Canada.
The Penticton Vees are one of the five teams in the tournament and the favorites. His son Mario and brothers Mike and Ryan Reilly, two Gophers recruits, are on the Vees as well as five other Minnesotans.
"For all the kids, it's been a long year, 80 games," Don Lucia said. "If they go all the way, [the Vees] will play 87 games. But it has been a real rewarding year. They are playing for the national championship. There are 133 teams [in Junior A] and they are one of five left. It is a great accomplishment.
"It is a big deal. [The RBC Cup] will be televised by TSN."
TSN is Canada's version of ESPN.
A third Reilly, Connor, Ryan's twin brother, is not playing in the tournament because he had knee surgery late in the regular season.
"[Connor] is working out and rehabbing," Don Lucia said. "He is ahead of schedule. We anticipate he will be ready" for the Gophers' first practice in early October.
That's right, all three Reillys are joining the Gophers this season. Connor and Ryan are forwards, Mike a defenseman.
The latest Vees blog is here. Thursday was travel day for them to get to Humboldt. Needed two bus trips and two flights to get there.
Another of the incoming freshman is goalie Adam Wilcox, who played for Tri-City of the USHL this past season.
"He had two good years in the USHL," Lucia said. "He and Mike [Shibrowski] will battle it out next season. And I can't say who will win out. They will start on an equal footing and battle. They could be rotated until somebody at some point wins the job.
"Mike is chomping at the bit to go, as Adam will be, too."
Lucia said the Gophers will add a practice goalie, too, and are in the process of filling that position.
The team awards banquet will be held Friday. ... Lucia said a decision has not been made on whether Lakeville South forward Justin Kloos, named Mr. Hockey this season, will join the Gophers for this upcoming season or play juniors. The Gophers are probably waiting to see what Bjugstad does.