Little preparation time for Lucia and Gophers

David La

The Gophers men’s hockey team kicks off the 2000-2001 season Friday with the year’s first practice.
After guiding Minnesota to a 20-19-2 record in his first year at the helm, coach Don Lucia gets an initial look at his new group.
“There’s always optimism to start the season,” Lucia said. “You’re anxious to see all the returning guys and if they’re going to take a step in their progress. And we’re anxious to see what the young guys are going to be able to do.”
This year’s mix of veterans and newcomers is a potent one. For the first time in 15 years, the Gophers return two 50-point scoring forwards, junior John Pohl and senior Erik Westrum.
A desire to improve his team’s offensive production has Lucia retooling his attack.
“One of the big questions we’re going to have is, ‘Are we going to keep Erik Westrum at center or put him on left wing?'” Lucia said. “We have some holes on the left side. We have (Jeff) Taffe, Pohl and Erik, that’s three good centers, but we might want to put our top six offensive guys on two lines rather than spreading them out.”
Whatever changes Lucia and his staff implement will need to come soon. Minnesota’s first game is next Saturday against Notre Dame, leaving Lucia short on time. The team will hold two-a-day practices Friday through Sunday.
“We’re hoping to, as much as we can, put our systems in by the end of this weekend,” Lucia said. “Which is really accelerated, but there’s nothing you can do about it.”
Missing from last year’s Gophers squad are forwards Dan Welch and Doug Meyer, both of whom will play in the USHL this season for reasons “more academic than anything else,” Lucia said.
Welch will play for the Omaha Lancers, Meyer with the Des Moines Buccaneers. The duo combined for 18 points last season.
The freshman class boasts defenseman Paul Martin of Elk River, and forward Troy Riddle of Benilde-St. Margaret, who played last season with Des Moines of the USHL. Martin was Minnesota’s Mr. Hockey award winner for Elk River last season, the 13th such winner to join the Gophers.
Riddle performed well at the USA Hockey Summer Challenge, scoring a hat trick against Finland in the gold medal game.
Perhaps the most watched newcomer will be Grant Potulny of Grand Forks, N.D. The forward is the first non-Minnesota player to appear on a Gophers hockey roster in 14 years.

ù The Gophers season-opening game with Notre Dame on Saturday, Oct. 7, at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul has been changed to a 6:05 p.m. start. The time change permits Midwest Sports Channel to air the Minnesota-Fighting Irish contest and then the Minnesota Wild game at Phoenix beginning at 9 p.m.
Game time for the Gophers-Michigan Tech game on Saturday, Feb. 3, at Mariucci Arena has been changed a to 3 p.m. start.

David La Vaque covers men’s hockey and welcomes comments at [email protected]