Preseason Top 16: Number 8 Minnesota
Howdy, folks. It’s that time of year again. Every so often The College Hockey Blog will be unveiling our Preseason top 16 teams, one by one. If you want to see the top 16 in order, and links to each individual preview, click the tab at the top of the page. Today’s team is #8 Minnesota
Well, here we go. I have my e-mail open and my Google translator on in preparation for all of the e-mails from Sioux fans that say some form of “U kant hav the goofers number 8 u loser.” Should be a fun week or two in my household.
Last year the Gophers came roaring out of the blocks and were the number 1 ranked team in the country in this and many other polls. But starting with a January 9th and 10th sweep by North Dakota, the Gophers went through a stretch where they lost 9 of their final 16 regular season games. They jumped back on track in the first round of the WCHA playoffs, sweeping St. Cloud State, but then lost to Minnesota-Duluth in the opening round of the Final Five and missed the NCAA Tournament.
The Gophers will be without their leading scorer and captain last year, Ryan Stoa, as he left school early to sign with the Colorado Avalanche. Of course this ranking is dependent on Jordan Schroeder staying in school. The 22nd overall pick has hinted that he might sign with Vancouver, and it remains to be seen whether Vancouver will seriously push to sign him. They let BC goalie Corey Schneider develop in college so they may do the same with Schroeder. Last year the Freshman was tied for 2nd nationally in points per game (1.29) and was one of the best players in the World Junior Championships in Ottawa.
Also back for the Gophers are four Senior forwards: Jay Barriball, Tony Lucia, Mike Carman and Ryan Flynn. Barriball led this group with 11 goals and 34 points last year. Carman has shown flashes in the past but he, Lucia and Flynn are more glue guys than anything else. Still Minnesota will be one of the most experienced teams up front in the conference and they have a group of good college players that should put up some better numbers than they did last year.
Speaking of better numbers, goalie Alex Kangas had his numbers absolutely collapse. He had a 2.79 GAA and a .901 save percentage. I thought he was going to be one of the best goaltenders in the country last year but he was probably the most disappointing player in the country. I really have no idea what happened to him, although the play by some of the defensemen in front of him certainly didn’t help. Any Gopher fans who know what happened though should leave their thoughts in the comments.
Defensively, the Gophers should be better than last year with the maturation of Aaron Ness. Ness had a good year last year, but you could tell he was physically overmatched at times. The star of the Gopher defense is Cade Fairchild, who has been very good for the Gophers the past couple years. I know fans of other WCHA teams get on INCH for overhyping Fairchild a bit, and they do to some extent, but the kid is a very good defenseman. I also really liked the play of Sam Lofquist last year, and think he has a shot of making the US World Junior team this year.
I like the Gophers to improve from where they were last year, finish in the top 3 or 4 in the WCHA, and win a game in the NCAA Tournament.