Questions loom for men’s hockey

The team lost nine players from last year’s roster and has 10 freshmen.

Minnesota forward Justin Kloos races to the puck in the first period against Michigan State at Mariucci Arena on Feb. 26.

Holly Peterson, Daily File Photo

Minnesota forward Justin Kloos races to the puck in the first period against Michigan State at Mariucci Arena on Feb. 26.

by Mike Hendrickson

The Gophers men’s hockey team will begin their season next Saturday against the University of Vermont, and while the season is less than two weeks away, plenty of questions still surround the team.
The Gophers will have to replace six seniors who graduated last year and three other players who left and signed professional contracts. 
There are 10 new freshmen joining the team, and it remains to be seen how much of an impact the newcomers will provide to a team entering the season ranked No. 9 in the nation.
“I don’t think we have the superstars that maybe we’ve had in the past,” head coach Don Lucia said. “We’re going to have to do it with balance; we’re going to have to do it with different guys emerging.”
Junior captain Justin Kloos will be the team’s top line center to start the year, but other than that, Lucia said he still does not know who will play where exactly, especially at goaltender.
The team needs to replace Adam Wilcox, who started for the team in net the last three seasons and signed a contract with the Tampa Bay Lightning in the offseason.
The incoming freshman class brings two goalies, Brock Kautz and Eric Schierhorn, and the Gophers have two other goalies returning from last year, senior Ryan Coyne and sophomore Nick Lehr.
“Just like any other position, once you’ve got guys in there and show what they can do and can perform, they’ll keep the net,” Lucia said. “If not, then somebody else will have an opportunity to play as well.”
The Gophers lost three defensemen from last year, but the team will gain one back with sophomore Jack Glover returning to the blue line after spending time at forward last year. 
Lucia said the team’s top six defenders are pretty much set, with the team’s two freshman defensemen lagging behind the pack.
Though the season will begin with some uncertainty at some positions, Kloos said he isn’t too concerned about the skill level the team has and expects some quick results from the freshmen.
“We’re going to need some immediate impact,” Kloos said. “That’s not putting pressure on them, but there will be a lot of freshmen playing big minutes for us.”
Outside of Kloos at center, Lucia said he sees junior Vinni Lettieri and some of the team’s freshmen getting time at the position, including newcomers Tommy Novak and Tyler Sheehy.
Junior forward Hudson Fasching, one of the assistant captains, compared this year’s uncertainty to when he was a freshman and the Gophers brought in a large freshman class before finishing the season as national runners-up.
“We’re trying to build a team,” Fasching said. “We’re trying to get a good team mentality that everybody’s just ready to come to the rink every day and get better and work hard.”
Fasching said he had knee surgery in the spring but is good to go for this year.
Along with Fasching, redshirt junior Connor Reilly said he is back to full strength after a knee injury cut his season short last year.
“It’s an exciting time for us,” Reilly said. “At the end of the day, we have to get everyone on the same page as fast as we can so we can hit the ground running next week.”