One reason the Gophers have a chance to be improved this season is the return of Mike Hoeffel.

The 6-2, 205-pound left wing will play on either the first or second line for the Gophers as a senior. He led the team in goals last season with 14, in power-play goals with seven and had three game-winning goals, which tied him with Patrick White for most on the team in that stat.

He was drafted by the New Jersey Devils in the second round in 2007. But even last season, when asked about turning pro and leaving school early, Hoeffel said he wanted to keep playing for the Gophers.

"It has been a great experience, I have loved every year of it," Hoeffel reiterated on Wednesday at the State Fair. "Three of the greatest years of my life so far. A couple of highlights would have to be, my freshman year we were on a roller coaster during the regular season. But toward the end we really gelled and made a good run, beating [Minnesota State] Mankato in what seemed to be the longest series of our entire lives.

"We beat them. Alex [Kangas] was unbelievable [in goal]. Beating Mankato and then going on to the Final Five and winning the play-in game and beating Colorado College. Everybody seemed to think we wouldn't get in, but we went to the NCAA tournament. My freshman year was a cool experience."

The Gophers lost 2-1 to Denver in the title game of the 2008 Final Five, then went out to Worcester, Mass., and lost to eventual NCAA champion Boston College 5-2  in a first-round NCAA game.

That was quite a run by the Gophers.

Minnesota played three consecutive overtime games in Mankato. The Mavericks won the first game 1-0 in two OTs, the Gophers won the second 2-1 in OT and the third 3-2 in two OTs.

In the play-in game of the Final Five, Minnesota beat St. Cloud State 3-2 on a late goal, then in the semifials beat Colorado College 2-1 in overtime.

Very memorable indeed.