Gophers men’s hockey gameday

7 p.m. Saturday at Minnesota Duluth • FOX9+/MY9; • 1130-AM/103.5-FM

Wrong side of a banner-raising

They are the champions: When the Gophers visit Duluth for their season-opener and first game of a home-and-home series, they’ll be forced to watch the reigning national champion Duluth Bulldogs immortalize their title in AMSOIL Arena. This after the Gophers missed the NCAA tournament all together for the second time in three years last season, a finish that ultimately brought on a coaching change with Bob Motzko taking the helm this past March. “They’re going to be raising a banner on Saturday night, so that should give us a little extra jump in our step, a little anger toward them,” senior forward Darian Romanko said. “Obviously, we know they don’t like us. We should not like them just as much.”

A lot to learn: This first game also falls on the first official day of the season, per the NCAA’s men’s hockey calendar — meaning the new staff has been limited to four hours of preseason coaching each week to ready the squad. While Motzko praised his forwards as having high-end quality, size and speed — specifically pointing out senior forward Tyler Sheehy and junior forward Rem Pitlick — and also touted an experienced goalie contingent with two-time Big Ten Goaltender of the Year Eric Schierhorn, he called his defense inexperienced, with just three upperclassmen. “If there’s any team that could teach us a lesson, it’s Duluth,” Motzko said. “They started last year with five freshmen defensemen. I guarantee you they had no thought process in their mind that they were going to be sitting with the national championship at the end of the year. … They just kept getting better and better and better until they snuck in that tournament.”

Injuries: Motzko mentioned two injuries on Tuesday: freshman forwards Blake McLaughlin and Nathan Burke, though Motzko said Burke returned to skating Tuesday. Motzko also said Sheehy, who played through a back injury his All-American sophomore season before having offseason surgery, should be able to regain that stellar-year form now that he’s fully recovered.