There are 11 returning forwards on the Gophers hockey team and five, maybe six coming in.

The Don recently said that the right wing on his first line will be his captain, Jay Barriball. Agreed.

And his top two left wings are Mike Hoeffel and Jacob Cepis, not necessarily in that order. Agreed.

So here's an early look at how the Gophers' four lines could look:

First line

LW--Mike Hoeffel, C--Erik Haula, RW--Jay Barriball

Comments: Hoeffel adds size. Haula is highly skilled, coming off great season at Omaha of UHSL. Barriball missed most of last season after knee surgery. He could start slow but needs to be one of top scorers.

Second line

LW--Jacob Cepis, C--Nico Sacchetti, RW--Zach Budish

Comments: Cepis injected life into Gophers offense second half of last season; he was inelgible for first half. He is a lovable pest if he plays for your team. Sacchetti, a junior,  looks in tremendous shape this summer, Lucia said. The Don probably wouldn't want two freshmen centering top two lines. Budish played on first line much of last season.

Third line

This is toughest to pick. So many players to choose from. The Don appears to have brought in a couple walk-ons to play tough and gritty on the fourth line, so third line could change the most from game to game.

LW--Nate Condon, C--Nick Bjugstad, RW--Jake Hansen or Patrick White.

Comments: Condon played for Fargo Force in USHL and was an all-star like Haula. Moving him from center. Bjugstad accelerated at Blaine High School, graduating in three years, and is a first-round NHL draft pick. Hansen and White are both veterans who need to produce.

Fourth line

LW--Tom Serratore, C--Jared Larson, RW--Taylor Matson.

Comments: Serratore of Youngstown of USHL and Larson of the Fairbanks Ice Dogs of NAHL are both recruited walk-ons. Both are expected to play hard, hit. Matson is one of team's fastest players, excels on special teams but was hurt in first and second seasons at U.

So who is leftover?

Three right-handed shooters. Nick Larson and Josh Birkholz have shown flashes of talent but have been inconsistent. Joe Miller has not played much. Usually he has sat upstairs and watched.

The Don might also bring in one more forward, maybe Max Gardiner of Minnetonka or less likely Seth Ambroz of New Prague who played at Omaha of USHL for two seasons.

Bottom line is, there will be competion for spots on game nights. Which is what The Don wants because his players were not always fired up for every game last season.

He also wants extra bodies in case of injuries or illnesses. Barriball (knee), Matson (ankle) and Hoeffel (mono), all forwards, and defenseman Nick Leddy (jaw) all missed much or part of last season. And defenseman Sam Lofquist left the team early because of lack of playing time.

This season The Don will have options.  

LOOKING BACK AND AHEAD

Just listened again to what The Don had to say on the radio a day after his team lost two of three games at North Dakota. Its painful to look back at that first-round WCHA playoff series but here are some highlites from his comments on 'CCO:

* Lucia said losing Jay Barriball, then Taylor Matson and Mike Hoeffel, even though he was only out four games, really hurt. Hoeffel when he returned needed time to be himself again. Lucia said if the Gophers could have own three, four more games, they would have had home ice in the first round and would have made the NCAA tournament.

* "The inability to score the timely goal, that was the issue that we had with this team more than anything else," The Don said.

* He said when the Gophers scored three goals they won almost every game and when they scored two or fewer they lost almost every game.

* The Gophers played North Dakota tough, going 2-3-2.

* "We weren't good enough to score that extra goal we needed on a game by game basis," Lucia said.

* On this year's team, Lucia said, "We have to have our bottom six forwards be able to be good on the penalty kill and play with some bite. We got a kid coming right now who is going to be a 21-year-old freshman . He is not going to be afraid to run over people. We need that in our lineup.

"We've got three, four guys who will be 20-, 21-year-old freshmen. That will help us."

* Usually The Don does not count on freshmen too much. But at the end of last season, he said, "We are going to have to have some of these freshmen come in and make an impact for us next year. We've got to have some guys come in and score some goals.

"A couple of defensemen will be coming in and playing on a regular basis, which we think will help us."

* He said forward Erik Haula and Nate Condon had pretty successful years in the USHL and both can play C or LW. "Those two will help a lot next year," The Don said.

* He said he will try to have a roster of 27. At other times, The Don bumped that number to 28 players.