When the Gophers men’s hockey team hits the road to play four games in the state of Michigan during a seven-day span, it will be doing so with a roster that will have some holes — for reasons positive and negative.
The positive: Three Gophers defensemen — sophomores Ryan Johnson and Jackson LaCombe and freshman Brock Faber — will play in the Thursday-Friday series at Michigan State but miss the Dec. 8-9 series at Michigan because they will be in training camp with the U.S. junior national team beginning Sunday in Plymouth, Mich. The three are among 29 players who on Monday were named to the preliminary roster of the U.S. team that will play in the World Junior Championship from Dec. 26 to Jan. 5 in Edmonton, Alberta.
“Our three guys have earned this opportunity to be at that camp,” coach Bob Motzko said. “ … They’ve played really well, and we’ll miss them in the lineup, but it’s great for them.”
The negative: Senior forward Brannon McManus suffered a leg injury during the second period of the Nov. 24 game vs. Ohio State and won’t be available for the Michigan State series. Motzko indicated it is uncertain if McManus, the top-line right winger, will play in the series at Michigan.
McManus leads the Gophers (4-0) with five points on one goal and four assists, while Johnson (three assists), LaCombe (one assist) and Faber (one goal) have contributed with solid play on the blue line.
Other players with Minnesota ties among the 29 invited to the U.S. junior training camp include Boston College defenseman Drew Helleson of Farmington; Boston College forward Matt Boldy, the Wild’s 2019 first-round draft pick; and Denver forward Bobby Brink of Minnetonka. The final roster of 25 players will be announced Dec. 13.
Michigan will be missing five players for the Gophers series because of U.S. junior training camp: defenseman Cam York and forwards John Beecher, Matthew Beniers, Thomas Bordeleau and Brendon Brisson.
• The two series in Michigan will mark the end of the first portion of the schedule for the Gophers. They are expected to return to action Jan. 1, but the Big Ten has yet to release the remainder of the 2020-21 schedule as it deals with the coronavirus pandemic. “We better see it this week, and I think it will be out this week,” Motzko said.
• The Gophers moved up three spots to No. 5 in the U.S. College Hockey Online poll and two spots to No. 5 in the USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine poll. Minnesota received one first-place vote in each poll.