Minn. opens with invite

by Brian Deutsch

The Minnesota men’s hockey team will open the 2007-2008 campaign this weekend at the Icebreaker Invitational, where coach Don Lucia will look for his 500th career win.

The fifth-ranked Gophers host the event and will play Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Friday and face off against either No. 10 Michigan or No. 2 Boston College on Saturday.

Both Minnesota games are scheduled for 7:30 p.m. face-offs at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.

Friday’s match-up will be a homecoming of sorts for four members of the Engineers’ squad.

Three RPI players, forward Chase Polacek of Edina, defensemen Bryan Brutlag of Lakeville and Jeff Foss of Moorhead are originally from Minnesota.

And all have ties to the Gophers in one way or another.

Foss played with freshman forward Drew Fisher at Moorhead High School and both played with freshman defenseman Stu Bickel for the Sioux Falls Stampede in the USHL.

Brutlag and Polacek both attended the Academy of Holy Angels with Minnesota’s junior goaltender Jeff Frazee and sophomore forwards Jay Barriball and Mike Carman.

The two hometown skaters will get their first chance to play in Minnesota in perhaps the state’s hockey Mecca, which has Brutlag anxious for Friday.

“It’s a chance to play in front of all my friends and family again,” he said. “I’m real excited about it.”

Additionally, Engineers senior forward Tyler Eaves came to Minnesota from New York to play hockey at Shattuck-St. Mary’s, the same high school as Gophers forward Kyle Okposo.

RPI coach Seth Appert is also a Minnesota native; he grew up in Cottage Grove.

He too is familiar with the Gophers – having coached against them as an assistant at Denver before taking over the head coaching duties at RPI.

Appert took the Western style of hockey, which utilizes speed and transition, with him when he took over for the Engineers, and he feels his three incoming Minnesotans fit the bill of the program and school.

“Jeff, Bryan, and Chase all fit very well with how we want to play. They’re very good, offensive-minded players,” Appert said. “At the same time, they fit well into our academic scheme of things in that they’re really elite-level students.”

In the Eastern College Athletic Conference, which features several Ivy League teams, academic standards are held as high as athletic ability – one reason Foss chose to play for RPI.

The Moorhead graduate said he knew RPI was the right school for him after meeting the coaching staff and learning that the Engineers, oddly enough, have a prestigious engineering department.

“It was a win-win situation for me.”