Mike Szmatula is facing a team he is very familiar with this weekend.
The forward transferred to Minnesota prior to the start of last season and will face Northeastern on Friday, a team he played on his freshman and sophomore season.
“I think it will be cool,” Szmatula said. “I have a lot of friends still back there. We’re all pretty excited to try some good clam chowder.”
All the personal aspects aside, this is Szmatula’s first season playing for the Gophers, even though he transferred to Minnesota in 2015.
Due to NCAA rules, Szmatula had to sit out of competition after his sophomore year as a result of transferring from Northeastern to Minnesota, but he gets to resume his play this season as a junior.
Szmatula played his freshman and sophomore years with Northeastern, and was almost a point per-game player.
In his freshman year at Northeastern, he scored 39 points in 37 games and followed that up with 29 points in 36 games as a sophomore.
The junior forward had to sit out last season, but now resumes his career with two years of eligibility left.
“A lot went behind the scenes last year just working with me,” Szmatula said. “I’ve gotten a good chance to live with some of [my teammates] and to really gel with them, especially the older guys, and our team’s just really close together.”
Szmatula already has 11 points – four goals and seven assists – in 10 games.
For most of the season Szmatula had been lining up with captain Justin Kloos as his center, but after the weekend series against Minnesota State, he was skating with a different center.
Kloos is one of the leadership core players that eased Szmatula’s transition to Minnesota’s game plan to become more comfortable in the system.
“If you were to tell me I would be playing for Minnesota, I would be shocked,” Szmatula said. “It’s just a dream come true to play for a school like this. It’s been nothing but great the last two years here.”
Finding his way back to Northeastern this weekend, Szmatula and the Gophers look to get back on track.
“I don’t think it’s difficult, but I think you’re probably hungry,” said head coach Don Lucia. “For him, he had two good years there but made a decision to go someplace else, we’re glad he is on our team, he’s off to a good start, he was a point-a-game player out in Hockey East [Conference], and a point-a-game guy for us.”
Szmatula looks to maintain his status as a “point-a-game” player Friday against his former school.
“It’s going to be big for us,” Szmatula said. “Especially closing out our non-conference series, and just being back there I always liked the rink, so we’re going to try and go get two big wins for us.”
Gophers’ associate head coach watches son make NHL debut
Mike Guentzel was a proud father Monday night.
The youngest son of the Gophers’ associate head coach, Jake, made his NHL debut for the Pittsburgh Penguins and opened his career with two goals Monday night.
Guentzel would’ve been a happy father with less.
“I said [to my eldest son], ‘Well, I hope he gets ten minutes, and I hope he doesn’t make any mistakes.’” Mike Guentzel said.
Jake Guentzel played hockey in high school at Hill Murray in Maplewood, Minn. and college hockey at Nebraska-Omaha.
He was drafted in the third round, 77th overall by the Penguins in 2013, and finally made his NHL debut on Monday against the New York Rangers.
The rookie highlighted his first night in the NHL by scoring two goals, including the first on his first shift, and first shot.
“He got some advice from his brothers yesterday,” Guentzel said. “He’s usually a pass-first, shoot-second kind of guy, and they told him, ‘You have to shoot.’”
Many tweets and articles circled around after Jake scored his first goal on Monday.
The reaction of his parents and oldest brother was caught on the television broadcast.
“I was stunned,” Mike Guentzel said. “I just didn’t expect it.”
Jake Guentzel was named the second star after the game, having scored the Penguins’ only two goals of the evening.
He only had a short amount of time to meet with his parents and brother before he had to leave with his teammates.
“Typical Jake,” Mike Guentzel said. “He sits there and he’s quiet and pulls out his phone and says, ‘Dad, I got 200 text messages.’”
Guentzel said he did not expect, between being a parent and a coach, his son to score two goals in his NHL debut, but was proud of Jake’s accomplishment.
“When your son is involved like that,” Guentzel said. “Playing in the state hockey tournament, playing in an NHL game, it’s hard to say that that’s anything but the top.”