The Gophers on Thursday announced that forward Max Gardiner is leaving the program to play junior hockey.

He only played 17 games last season as a freshman, usually at left wing on the third or fourth lines. Gardiner is headed for Dubuque of the USHL. Dubuque took him in the fifth round of the USHL draft on Monday. With his departure, the Gophers have at least 16 forwards they can bring in for the 2011-12 season. "We had a good conversation," Gophers coach Don Lucia said, "and he was disappointed in the ice time he received last year and was concerned about playing time in the upcoming season. "Leaving assures him of the ice time he is looking for. I am disappointed he is leaving, but I understand his decision and wish him all the best." Gardiner, who turned 19 on May 7, had one goal and two assists for three points last season. The Gophers appear pretty loaded at left wing. Among the players Gardiner would have been competing against for ice time would have been incoming freshman Kyle Rau, Mr. Hockey and a USHL sensation for Sioux Falls in the playoffs; sophomore Nate Condon and Sam Warning, another freshman. Warning scored 28 goals for Cedar Rapids in his second year in the USHL this past season. Ironically, Gardiner was headed for the USHL himself for the 2010-11 season until freshman Josh Birkholz left the program last summer. Gardiner took his spot on the roster.