During Thursday’s Big Ten men’s hockey teleconference, 19th-year Gophers coach Don Lucia sounded upbeat about the upcoming season.
His team has been practicing, getting ready for a home exhibition against Alberta on Oct. 1. The Gophers open the regular season at Minnesota Duluth on Oct. 6 in the Ice Breaker tournament.
After last year’s first-round NCAA tournament exit against Notre Dame, the Gophers lost senior forwards Justin Kloos and Vinni Lettieri, and defenseman Ryan Collins, an early departure for the NHL.
But Tyler Sheehy, last season’s Big Ten Player of the Year, is back, along with two-time Big Ten Goaltender of the Year Eric Schierhorn.
Here are three other takeaways from Lucia on Thursday:
1. Novak, Lindgren are back
Tommy Novak was one of the Gophers’ most productive forwards last season (14 points in 20 games) before suffering a season-ending lower-body injury.
Ryan Lindgren played for the U.S. Junior National Team at the world juniors and helped steady Minnesota’s defense before breaking a leg the final weekend of the regular season.
Both were missed in the postseason, as the Gophers went 0-2, losing to Penn State in double overtime in the Big Ten tourney before the NCAA tournament loss to Notre Dame, the Big Ten Conference’s new member this season.
“We kind of got used to not having Tommy because he got hurt in January, and then you recover from that,” Lucia said. “But there’s no doubt that losing Ryan … was a blow. The good thing is, they both went through their rehab, and they’re both cleared 100 percent.”
2. New goalie could contend
Mat Robson, 21, was a first-team all-star in the British Columbia Hockey League last season with Penticton, posting a 1.94 goals-against average.
Now he’s a Gopher, though he has to sit out half the season because of what the Gophers are calling “NCAA amateur status issues.”
The eligibility issue reportedly stems from Robson’s decision to play junior hockey in Canada at age 16. He has to miss 18 regular-season games.
Schierhorn started every game for the Gophers the past two seasons, but Lucia said, “I look forward to having Mat Robson, our new goalie who will be eligible in December to push Eric Schierhorn, our Big Ten Goalie of the Year.”
3. Mittelstadt impresses
The Buffalo Sabers picked the Eden Prairie grad with the No. 8 pick in the NHL draft, but Casey Mittelstadt followed through on his commitment to play for the Gophers.
“We’ve only had some 30-minute practices, but obviously he’s a talented player,” Lucia said.
“I mean, you don’t get picked that high in the draft without a tremendously high skill level. He’s competitive, but I think what I’ve enjoyed the most about him so far is he’s a humble kid. … There’s just no ego. He’s all-team.”