Hockey wakes up from long summer’s nap

Tim Nichols

Anyone who’s ever had a bad day can relate.
When the end mercifully comes, you flop down on the bed, grab your favorite stuffed animal and nod off for a few hours. When you wake up, you feel refreshed and renewed.
Nap time is over for the Minnesota men’s hockey team after one of the worst seasons in the program’s history. And as the first practice of this season began Thursday, the Gophers were back on the ice feeling refreshed and renewed.
Minnesota unceremoniously ended last year’s campaign in Duluth when they blew a four-goal lead in the third period and lost the game in overtime. But that might as well be ancient history, according to some returning players.
“Actually, we needed some time off; it’s been a nice off-season,” senior winger Mike Anderson said, “Last year’s behind us, and I don’t think about it.”
But just because the Gophers are feeling refreshed, it doesn’t necessarily mean all is perfect in Minnesota.
The Gophers will have to fill in the holes left behind by the departures of Ryan Kraft, Casey Hankinson, Brett Abrahamson and Brent and Jason Godbout.
The most glaring hole of all will be in net. Long-time goalie Steve DeBus’ eligibility finally ran out, and sophomore Erik Day is out for the season with a knee injury. This leaves the Gophers with three true freshmen and the relatively untested junior Willy Marvin.
Either Marvin or freshman Adam Hauser is expected to step into the starting role this season.
Hauser, of Greenway, Minn., comes to the Gophers as one of the most highly-touted high school goaltenders to come from Minnesota in a while. He spent last year in Ann Arbor, Mich., with the U.S. developmental squad.
“It’s tough to say right now, but we’ve got two goalies who are really untested,” senior Wyatt Smith said.
For coach Doug Woog, entering his 14th year as Gophers coach, the question of who will be the starting goaltender is moot.
“We’ll have to be patient with that and see how it evolves,” Woog said.
Smith is coming back for his senior year with Minnesota as the captain, after posting 24 goals and 23 assists last season to lead the team.
Although Smith has been elected captain, he is taking the honor — and leadership roll that comes with it — in stride.
“Even though I’m wearing the `C,’ it’s not specifically my job to be a leader,” Smith said, “There are four seniors. Leading by example is hopefully what I can do.”
The Gophers will again boast a powerful freshman class that not only features Hauser, but also the 1998 Mr. Hockey Award winner center John Pohl — the 11th consecutive Mr. Hockey to play for Minnesota.
“It’s going to be very important (for the freshman to contribute),” junior wing Dave Spehar said. “We have a good nucleus back, but you need all 20 guys. You need those guys to contribute down the stretch –or right away — and we’re going to need them.”
Although Minnesota had a disastrous season last year, expectations are running high right now. Spehar seems the most optimistic about the Gophers chances.
“A reasonable goal is to get to the final four in Anaheim,” said Spehar. “We’ve got the best talent in the country and just haven’t been able to gel as a team in the last couple years.”