When the formation of the Big Ten Conference in hockey was announced on March 21, Gophers coach Don Lucia and Joel Maturi, his athletic director, both said the U of M wanted to keep playing the other Division I programs in the state.
All four are in the WCHA now along with the Gophers.
The St. Cloud Daily Times reported on Wednesday that preliminary discussions have begin in a story here.
I talked to Lucia the next day and he reconfirmed a second time that, yes, indeedy, the Gophers want to keep playing Bemidji State, Minnesota Duluth, Minnesota State Mankato and St. Cloud State. Three of those teams are planning to remain in the WCHA come 2013-14, UMD is bolting for the National Collegiate Hockey Conference.
The Gophers will be one of six Big Ten teams in 2013-14, so they will have only 20 conference games, leaving room for 14 more games.
"As we lok to build our nonconference schedule, we want to start with teams within our state," Lucia said. "We have some healthy rivalries. It's easy travel [by bus] and it is good for everybody.
"We can continue our home and home series with St. Cloud and Mankato," he said, referring to the two closest Division I teams to the Twin Cities.
When the Gophers have four games against SCSU or MSU Mankato, they have played one game at home, and the other on the road the same weekend. Or vice versa, an away game followed by a home game.
"Playing in-state teams goes a long ways toward having a good quality schedule," Lucia said.
He also said the Gophers are also looking at playing a four-team tournament with state teams at the Xcel. "It would be a destination event, fun for fans," he said.
The rest of the schedule could be filled out with other present WCHA rivals, Lucia said, such as North Dakota -- if the university allows scheduling the Fighting Sioux -- Denver or Colorado College.
"That's a regents' deal," Lucia said, asked to elaborate on the university rule prohibiting nonconference games against teams with Indian nicknames.
NANNE BACKS TOURNAMENT
Lou Nanne, one of the best hockey minds in the state, suggested an all-Minnesota team tournament on KFAN late in the hockey season. If Louie is for it, how can anyone be against it?
His proposal came after it became clear the Gophers were going to leave the WCHA for the Big Ten Conference.
CANADIAN GOALIE OUT
A reliable USHL source says the Gophers no longer are interested in Muskegon goalie Joel Vinneau. Why? He still has academic issues and he didn't have that great a season for Muskegon, an expansion team.
Vinneau, who visited the U campus during a Gophers series with North Dakota, committed to come to Minnesota and the USHL web site still lists Minnesota as his college choice.
Vinneau, 19, is from Hearst, Ontario. He has good size, 6-3, 194. He was 15-18-4 (four overtime losses) for the Lumberjacks with a 3.70 goals-against average and an 88.9 save percentage. He also played six games in the playoff and went 3-3 with a 3.10 gaa.