While bittersweet, Ryan Collins being the final defenseman cut by Team USA ahead of the World Junior Championships means the Gophers will be at full strength this Mariucci Classic.
For the first time in Don Lucia’s 17 year coaching career at Minnesota, the Gophers will not be missing a player over the holidays because of the tournament, which features the best under-20 players internationally.
Collins, a sophomore defenseman, is in Friday’s lineup against Connecticut (5-10-1, 3-7-1 Hockey East) in his normal spot next to Steve Johnson. Minnesota (7-8-0, 3-1-0-0 Big Ten) has made only a single change to begin the second half with Darian Romanko replacing Ryan Norman on the fourth line.
The Gophers are looking to use the Mariucci Classic as a springboard into the second half of the season. While the team has several quality wins over teams ranked in the top 15 and leads the Big Ten, consistency has not been its friend this year. Minnesota has yet to get above .500 this season.
Vinni Lettieri on Wednesday said the Gophers have not yet played their best hockey and have been tough against teams the way they are against one another in practice.
Connecticut, which Lucia was able to scout during Minnesota’s bye week in late October, features a pair of local players in sophomore forward Spencer Naas (Minnetonka) and defenseman Johnny Austin (St. Louis Park). The Huskies, under third-year coach Mike Cavanaugh, are a young team that is on the rise, Lucia said mid-week. Besides Naas (4G-5A) and Austin (0G-6A), two freshmen lead Connecticut in scoring , Max Letunov (6G-12A) and 2016 NHL Draft eligible Tage Thompson (7G-5A).
Connor Reilly – Justin Kloos – Tyler Sheehy
Leon Bristedt – Tommy Novak – Hudson Fasching
Brent Gates Jr. - Vinni Lettieri – Taylor Cammarata
A.J. Michaelson – Darian Romanko – Jack Ramsey
Nick Seeler – Jack Glover
Jake Bischoff – Michael Brodzinski
Steve Johnson – Ryan Collins
Fox Sports North is broadcasting tonight’s game beginning at 7:00 p.m. CT.
Minnesota plays the corresponding winner/loser of Friday’s other semifinal between #7 Harvard (6-1-3, 4-1-3 ECAC) and Ferris State (8-8-4, 7-7-2 WCHA).