Roman Augustoviz spends Minnesota's winters covering college hockey, specifically the Gophers, and other University of Minnesota sports. During the summer, he writes about the WNBA's Minnesota Lynx, with a dose of U sports sprinkled in. Follow him on Twitter @RomanStrib.
Gabe Guertler, a 16-year-old native Floridian, has committed to the Gophers hockey program.
The 5-10, 170-pound forward played for Team Illinois last season.
The commitment was announced by Guertler's USHL team, the Fargo Force, on Twitter.
Ryan Clark, who covers the Force for the Fargo Forum, has details.
The U of M recently posted a partial roster for the 2011-12 season. On it are the 18 returning players from last season plus sophomore defensman Chris Student, who practiced with the team but couldn't play because he was a transfer from Northeastern.
Those 19 players break down this way:
The Gophers are expected to bring in eight freshmen for a 27-man roster. They will add one goalie, two defensemen and five forwards.
Here is where the 19 listed players are from:
Metro area: 12
Outstate Minnesota: 4
There is one big change on the coaching staff. Mike Guentzel returns as the associate head coach.
One key player left early. Defenseman Aaron Ness gave up his senior season to turn pro. Minnesota also lost forward Max Gardiner after his freshman season. Gardiner, who played sparingly, will be on the Dubuque roster in the USHL this coming season.
One Gophers hockey fan who regularly e-mails me, call him P.H., had a few questions this week.
A. I predicted the lines a couple months ago and the D-pairings a few weeks later. Just tweaked them a little today.
To get my mind on college hockey again, I called Gophers hockey coach Don Lucia on Thursday afternoon before he left for vacation.
He said his 27-man roster is set: three goalies, eight defensemen and 16 forwards. Before I had a chance to talk about specific players, his cell phone started breaking up and then I lost the connection. Couldn't get him back.
A colleague suggested Lucia hung up on me because I asked a question he didn't want to respond to. Hmm??? Nah, don't think so.
I already had a pretty good idea of the new players Lucia was bringing in. So here's a look at the Gophers for the 2011-12 season, with my projected lineups -- Don, you don't have to thank me:
LW C RW
Kyle Rau, 5-8, 160, fr. Nick Bjugstad, 6-4, 204, so. Zach Budish, 6-3, 221, redshirt so.
Comments: Rau is a sniper who led Eden Prairie H.S. to Class 2A state title and kept scoring for Sioux Falls in the USHL playoffs. Bjugstad started dominating late in his first season and just had a strong prospects camp with Florida Panthers of NHL. Budish, who missed most of last season, is a big body who should be able to get puck out of corners.
Nate Condon, 5-11, 195, so. Erik Haula, 5-10, 184, so. Seth Ambroz, 6-3, 215, fr.
Comments: Haula started season fast on first line, ended playing with broken foot. Condon played center a lot last season, so he can handle the puck. Ambroz is a power forward with three USHL seasons behind him. He fell to fifth round of NHL draft after being projected to go in second round. Should start season with something to prove. Was Haula's linemate two years ago at Omaha.
Sam Warning,5-9, 175, fr. Taylor Matson, 6-0, 185, sr. Jake Hansen, 6-2, 191, sr.
Comments: Matson is the team captain but, in three seasons, has never finished a season healthy. Hansen came on strong at end of junior year. Should push top two RWs. Last seaosn Warning scored 28 goals in regular season for Cedar Rapids of USHL.
Tom Serratore, 5-11, 190, so. Nico Sacchetti, 6-0, 193, sr. Nick Larson, 6-1. 188, sr.
Comments: Sacchetti and Larson could easily switch spots on this line or play on the third line if needed. Serratore is a player that provides grit.
That still leaves four players fighting for ice time. Gophers will probably shuffle their lineup some, as they do every year. Also injuries and illnesses always take a toll.
Christian Isackson, 6-0, 185, fr., RW ... Offers depth at right wing. Coming off strong season at Sioux Falls of USHL.
Travis Boyd, 5-11, 185, fr. LW or C ... Played for under-18 U.S. nat'l development team last season. Accelerated his high school education to join Gophers early.
Jared Larson, 6-3, 185, so, LW or C ... After year of sitting on bench will be hungry to play.
Joe Miller, 5-11, 201, sr., LW or RW ... Provides energy whenever he plays. Has not seen ice much in his career.
Left defense right defense
1st pair Ben Marshall, 5-10, 166, fr. Mark Alt, 6-3, 195, so.
Comments: Marshall was a second all-USHL team member for Omaha; Alt got better second half of season. Two young players with potential
2nd Seth Helgeson, 6-5,220, jr. Justin Holl, 6-2, 180, so.
Comments: Two returning players. Helgeson is a stay at home, defensive D-man; Holl has some offensive moves and can rush up ice. Holl has been invited to U.S. junior national evaluation camp in August. He underwhelmed U coaches with his practices early last season and sat a lot, but should know expectations now.
3rd Nate Schmidt, 5-11, 200, so. Blake Thompson, 6-3, 220, fr.
Comments: Schmidt was in and out of the lineup last season, even played some at forward. Thompson is a three-year USHL veteran with leadership skills.
4th Jake Parenteau, 5-10, 190, so. Chris Student, 5-9, 170, so.
Comments: Parenteau played sparingly last season but can hit a bit. Student went to school at Benilde-St. Margaret's before playing for Northeastern one season. Sat out last season as a transfer. Both seem capable of working their way into top six.
1st Kent Patterson, 6-1, 195, sr.
2nd Mike Shibrowksi, 6-3, 180, so.
3rd Jake Kremer, 6-1, 195, sr.
Comments: Patterson is the clear No. 1 goalie and Lucia probably wants him to play 95 percent of the time if not more. Shibrowski played two games at Colorado College two seasons ago and was the team MVP for Des Moines of the USHL last season. Kremer has been the practice goalie for three seasons.
Top six forwards could be pretty young, all freshmen and sophomores. The seniors are on the bottom two lines. But there is talent there. Three incoming freshmen were taken in the recent NHL draft, Rau in the third round, Ambroz in the fifth and Boyd in the sixth.
Gophers have added size with players like Ambroz and Thompson and scoring punch with snipers like Rau and Warning.
Should be an interesting season.
Lucia said he has not signed a contract extension yet and his son, Mario, still hasn't made his college choice.
In a previous conversation, he had said he was not concerned about the extention. That it would get done this summer. Could Mario be waiting for him to sign before he commits to Minnesota?
During Wild prospects camp, Mario said he was leaning toward Notre Dame. Colorado College is his third finalist.
Don Lucia said he watched Mario play Saturday and Sunday in the two prospects' scrimmages at the X. "It was a great experience [for Mario] and reinforced some things for him," his father said.
Mario played for Wayzata High School this past season. But is giving up his senior year of high school hockey to play for Penticton of the British Columbia Hockey League.
Mario Lucia is enjoying himself at the Wild's prospects camp this week despite having to answer the same question repeatedly.
Everyone asks Mario, the the son of Gophers coach Don Lucia, where he will attend college in 2012-13? His final three choices have long been the Gophers, Notre Dame and Colorado College.
The 6-2 left wing, drafted by the Wild in the second round of last month's NHL entry draft, said he will make his decision within a few days after the Wild camp ends Sunday.
But Tuesday, after his first on-ice practice at Wild camp at the X, Lucia dropped a hint. "I like Notre Dame the most, but we'll see," Lucia said. "I feel a little bit more comfortable there."
Don Lucia was a defenseman for the Irish.
What about the Gophers? "It's a tough spot," Mario Lucia said. "Pros and cons, playing for your dad is tough. You are always going to be the coach's kid. Wherever [else] I go, if I go out, I will start my own name at Notre Dame or CC, which will be nice."
All three of his prospective colleges are going to change conferences in two years. The Gophers will be in the Big Ten Conference in 2013-14, Colorado College in the new super conference and the Irish either in the super conference or the Big East.
But Mario Lucia is not worried about those teams swtiching conferences.
"The team [I pick] is not going to change the way they play," he said. "They are going to develop me regardless. I've talked to Notre Dame and they've told me they are probably going to move into that super conference. Wherever I go, I will become a better player."
The Wild, obviously, hope so.
Their coaches got a close-up look at him on the ice Tuesday as he and 17 other players on the White team skated for about an hour.
"It was just fun," Lucia said afterward. "It is an honor basically. I am the youngest guy here. Just good experience for me. I am just getting my feet wet."
Lucia turns 18 on August 25. The second youngest player is goalie Stephen Michalek, born 19 days earlier. The oldest prospect is Chay Genoway, a defenseman who played for North Dakota last season. Genoway is 24.
"Obviously, you grow up watching [games] hereand coming to the games," Lucia said. "It's different when you are out on the ice. I haven't had a chance to skate here much, but it is fun. It is a lot higher pace, the passes are harder. But it's easy to adjust to though. That's why [the Wild] picked me. I am a good player and I will be able to adjust to this."
"I've got a lot of time before I am ready to play in the NHL," Lucia said. "It is just fun to be around the guys and see who these guys are and meet them and get a chance to talk to them and skate with them."
Lucia played for Wayzata High School last season, but won't return to the Trojans as a senior. Instead he will report to the Penticton Vees of the British Columbia Hockey League in late August.
The Vees will be a team loaded with Minnesotans, perhaps as many as nine or 10, according to a team representative. The roster already has seven, including defensman Mike Reilly of Shattuck-St. Mary's and forward Steve Fogarty of Edina High School.
"It is going to be an easier transition going forward," said Lucia, who could have played for Des Moines of the USHL. "The home sickness won't be there as much because I am good buddies with Mikey and Steven."
Between the Wild camp and the Vees preseason camp, Lucia said he will be a kid. "[This is my] last summer basically. And then I have to go to summer school next year," Lucia said. "[This year I] will just have fun with my friends, work out and skate and do all that. Just be a kid for a little while."
Next month he also will become an uncle -- and Don a grandfather. One of his sisters, Jessica, is expecting a baby girl on Aug. 15.
Mario Lucia has made one big decision. On Thursday, he let the twitterworld know he is going to play junior hockey for the Penticton Vees of the British Columbia Hockey League.
On the surface, it seems a strange decision. His other option was playing for Des Moines of the USHL, a lot closer to home.
Maybe Mario just wants to get used to being far away from home -- Notre Dame is one of his three college options, Colorado College is another. The Gophers are his third.
Here is the Vees' blog on Lucia's decision. It hints at a couple reasons he may have chosen the Vees. It says he is buddies with the Reillys. The Reillys? That would be twins Connor and Ryan -- forwards who played for Sioux Falls of the USHL last season -- and Mike -- a defenseman who played for Shattuck-St. Mary's.
The twins have signed with the U, Mike has committed. All three could be Gophers as soon as the 2012-13 season when Lucia will start college as well.
There are two other Minnesotans on the Vees early roster as well, forward Joey Benik of St. Francis who is a St. Cloud State recruit, and defenseman Chad Bannor of Hermantown.
Benik put up nice numbers last season. He had 30 goals and 26 assists for 56 points in 60 regular-season games. But the USHL is considered a more physical league than the BCHL.
Lucia visited Penticton, which is about halfway between Seattle and Spokane, except farther north in Canada. When he was drafted by the Wild in the second round of the NHL draft, Lucia said he liked the scenery there -- Penticton is in a valley between mountain ranges and has two lakes near it -- the facilities and the coaches.
So does Lucia going to the Vees offer a hint where he will go to college? Not really.
But it's not surprising he is waiting on that decision. His dad hasn't signed a contract extension yet, Colorado College apparently is leaving the WCHA for the new "super league" in 2013-14 and Notre Dame seems to be trying to decide whether to join the super league or Hockey East.
The hockey landscape is changing. Quickly.
Mario Lucia turns 18 on Aug. 25. He has said he wants to play for his father, but understands the pitfalls associated with being the coach's son. His older brother, Tony, went through that.
On Tuesday, Mario will be at the Wild's prospects camp. He will be asked again if he has picked a college. He doesn't seem to be in a rush to make that call. At least one of the coaches will hold a spot open for "Super Mario" for as long as it takes to get him.
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