Gophers hockey coach Don Lucia has officially announced the signing of two players, Blake Thompson and Sam Warning, to national letters of intent.
Thompson, who will turn 20 on July 3, played the last three years in the USHL. The 6-3, 210-pound defenseman played high school hockey at Eden Prairie. In his first USHL season, he played 53 games with Sioux Falls in 2008-09 before playing his final two seasons with the Waterloo Black Hawks.
His offensive statistics and penalty minutes increased every USHL year. He play in 170 career games and had eight goals, 24 assists and 303 penalty minutes. Thompson had five goals, 18 assists and 117 penalty minutes in 58 games last season in Waterloo. He was second on the team among defenseman in points and third in penalty minutes.
“Blake is a little bit of what we need,” Lucia said. “He is a three-year veteran of junior hockey and is a stay-at-home defenseman. He has great size and strength. Hopefully he can develop and be an outstanding defensive defenseman for us.”
Waterloo announced he committed to the Gophers on April 26 for the 2011-12 season. At the time, his coach, P.K. O'Handley said, "He will be a terrific ambassador for the Univerity of Minnesota, just as was for the Waterloo Black Hawks."
O'Handley also said Thompson is heavier than 210 pounds, closer to 220, and is a leader.
With him the Gophers have nine defensemen on the roster unless somebody leaves.
Warning update: Warning, who turns 19 on Sept. 29, actually signed with the Gophers last month or in early May.
He played the past two seasons with Cedar Rapids of the USHL. The 5-9, 175-pound forward had 28 goals and 22 assists for 50 points in 64 games last season. He is from Chesterfield, Mo., a second-ring suburb of St. Louis.
Said Lucia: "He is small, quick and tenacious and should have an opportunity to be a real dynamic college hockey player."
Warning was a plus-16 player and nine of his goals, or almost a third, came on the power play. He also had five assists on the man-advantage. He scored three game-winning goals, two in the playoffs.
Last fall, it appeared Warning might not join the Gophers until 2012-13 but, considering the numbers he put up this season and the U's need for scoring, Lucia has to be tempted to add him for this season.
“Sam has had two very productive years in the USHL,” Lucia said.
The problem is, with Warning, there could be as many as 17 forwards on the roster. That's a lot.
Here is a possible lineup, with player's name and year in school for the 2011-12 season:
LW C RW
Kyle Rau, fr. Nick Bjugstad, so. Zach Budish, redshirt so.
Comments: Rau is a sniper who led Eden Prairie H.S. to Class 2A state title and is still the leading scorer in the USHL playoffs even though his Sioux Falls team is not in the finals. He had seven goals and five assists for 12 points in 10 games. Bjugstad started dominating late in his first season. Budish is a big body who should be able to get puck out of the corners.
Nate Condon, so. Erik Haula, so. Seth Ambroz, fr.
Comments: Haula started season fast on first line, ended playing with broken foot. Condon played center a lot last season, so he can handle the puck. Ambroz is a strong power forward with three USHL seasons behind him. Haula and Ambroz were linemates at Omaha in 2009-10 and clicked well.
Sam Warning, fr. Taylor Matson, sr. Jake Hansen, sr.
Comments: Matson is the team captain and has speed but, in three seasons, has never finished a season healthy. Warning can score. Hansen came on strong at end of junior year and will push be a top two-line RW.
Tom Serratore, so. Nico Sacchetti, sr. Nick Larson, sr.
Comments: Sacchetti and Larson could easily switch spots on this line or play on the third line if needed.
That still leaves five players fighting for playing time. Gophers will probably shuffle their lineup some, as they do every year. Also injuries and illnesses will undoubtedly come up.
Max Gardiner, so. Jared Larson, so. Christian Isackson, fr.
Travis Boyd, fr. Joe Miller, sr.
Comments: RW position appears especially loaded when Isackson can't make the top four lines. He was one of the top scorers for Sioux Falls and will play.
Gardiner, Jared Larson and Miller all sat more than they played last season and its hard seeing them crack this lineup unless they really impress the coaches in preseason workouts.
Boyd accelerated his education playing with the under-18 U.S. nat'l team, so he could join the Gophers a season early. The question is why, especially if Warning comes in? Have to wonder whether the U will ask Boyd to play a year in the USHL.
Jared Larson can also play LW, Miller can play all three forward positions, so he versatile.