Jason Gonzalez has covered an array of sports at all levels over the last nine years. He learned ice hockey, however, long before — during the 2002 Winter Olympic Games in Salt Lake City, Utah (his hometown). He got a close up look of legendary Gophers alum Herb Brooks and other Minnesota hockey greats. Jason has been with the Star Tribune since 2012.
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The Gophers are healthy and eager to break the ice on the season this weekend. The team will be at full strength for the Ice Breaker Tournament, with Sam Warning returning for Friday night's opener against Mercyhurst.
Warning will be placed in an important role right away. Coach Don Lucia said the junior forward will likely be paired with junior Kyle Rau and freshman Hudson Fasching. Both forwards were listed as first liners for last Saturday's exhibition. Warning has a minor injury and did not play in the game as a precaution.
“We’re in good shape. Sam Warning could have played [last week] if it was a regular season game. So he’s back,” Lucia said. “There’s a lot of competition for jobs, which is a good thing right now. We’ll probably play a number of different players over the first few weeks to ultimately determine who deserves to be on our lineup.”
The first week of official practice has amped up competition now that coaches are allowed full access to the team. Sophomore defenseman Brady Skjei said workouts are much more intense. (See more from Skjei in the below video)
That could be seen on Wednesday. The team enjoyed a productive practice and looked much sharper. Junior forward Seth Ambroz was disappointed with the how Saturday’s exhibition developed and is pleased that practices have been much more productive.
“It was tough to take anything away from it [the exhibition]. But, you know, it’s still nice to get your feet wet,” Ambroz said of the overly physical preseason game with Lethbridge. “We’ve had two good days of practice so far. I think guys are excited to play.”
Lucia’s team health report included his own diagnosis.
“The coach is probably the most stiff of anybody on our team at this point,” he joked.
Lucia ran the Twin Cities Marathon in 3:55.20 on Sunday. His pace of about 8:59 placed him among the top 90 male runners in his age group. More importantly, though, his participation in raising money for the Defending the Blue Line charity helped raise more than $20,000.
After the race, Lucia said he made at stop Mariucci for an ice bath.
Gophers sophomore defenseman Brady Skjei: