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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It’s become tradition for the Gophers to return from winter break without a couple of its top players.
Sophomore defenseman Brady Skjei and freshman forward Hudson Fasching are this year’s standouts competing in the World Junior Championships. There’s a new twist this season, though. Gophers coach Don Lucia is also with the U.S. National Junior Team.
The Gophers, however, aren’t worried about who is missing. Acting head coach Mike Guentzel said the Gophers’ depth should allow them to operate without a hitch. It will also allow for others to get more ice time.
“Just try to keep it on the tracks this week. Hopefully we can keep playing,” Guentzel said. “We’re trying to implement some new guys in new spots. Obviously Brady [Skjei] and Hudson [Fasching] being gone creates some new opportunities for other guys. … Hopefully we can develop some young guys’ confidence coming out of the break. “
Seth Ambroz will move into Fasching’s spot on the first line. On defense, Ryan Reilly fills the sixth spot with Skjei absent and Jake Parenteau still recovering from a broken leg. Reilly’s one appearance this season was at forward.
Defenseman Mike Reilly said the defense will be fine rotating five men. They’ve succeeded in similar situations earlier in the season.
The offense gets senior forward Tom Serratore back after his missed nearly a month with a lower-body injury. Vinni Lettieri is also in the lineup after missing the last series of the season against Michigan State.
With USA’s early exit from the International Ice Hockey Federation World Championships, the players returned to the United States late Friday night. There is an outside chance that Don Lucia returns to coach the Gophers and Skjei and Fasching return to the ice on Saturday.
• Ferris State defeated RPI in the opening game of the Mariucci Classic, 6-2. The No. 2-ranked Bulldogs advance to Saturday’s championship game. If the Gophers win, it’ll set up a No. 1 vs. No. 2 showdown.
• A last-minute effort by the Gophers athletic staff and Big Ten Network earned Saturday night’s championship game a primetime TV spot.
Entering the week, Saturday was only one of two Gophers game days not slated for TV. The potential of a No. 1 vs. No. 2 matchup was too intriguing to pass up, though, and the Big Ten Network picked up the game earlier this week.
23RD ANNUAL MARIUCCI CLASSIC PREVIEW
Friday: Ferris State vs. Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI), 4 p.m.
Colgate vs. Gophers, 7 p.m., Fox Sports North, 1500-AM, BTN2Go.com
Saturday: Consolation game, 4 p.m.
Championship game, 7 p.m., Big Ten Network, 1500-AM, BTN2Go.com
Gophers at a glance: The Gophers (12-2-2 overall, 3-0-1-0 Big Ten) will be tested without three players and its head coach.
Bulldog at a glance: Ferris State (14-2-3 overall, 10-0-2 Western Collegiate Hockey Association) jumped to No. 2 in the most recent college polls.
Engineers at a glance: Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (8-6-4 overall, 3-3-3 Eastern College Athletic Conference) has been in and out of the rankings this season and received votes in the current poll.
Raiders at a glance: Colgate (7-9-2 overall, 5-3-1 Eastern College Athletic Conference) is in the top third of its conference with the help of consistently good third periods. In their last 10 games, they’ve outscored opponents 14-8 in the third period. They beat Ferris State and lost to RPI earlier this season.
Forwards (left wing, center, right wing)
Sam Warning, Kyle Rau, Seth Ambroz
Nate Condon, Justin Kloos, Taylor Cammarata
Connor Reilly, Travis Boyd, Vinni Lettieri
Tom Serratore, Gabe Guertler, Christian Isackson
Defensemen (left, right)
Mike Reilly, Michael Brodzinski
Ben Marshall, Justin Holl
Jake Bischoff, Ryan Reilly
Gophers defenseman Mike Reilly: