Minnesota takes on St. Cloud State in WCHA opener

Freshman defensemen Aaron Ness will have a tough task on his hands as he and his fellow freshman take on a powerful and dangerous St. Cloud State offense this weekend.

Jules Ameel

Freshman defensemen Aaron Ness will have a tough task on his hands as he and his fellow freshman take on a powerful and dangerous St. Cloud State offense this weekend.

The Minnesota menâÄôs hockey team kicks off the 2008-2009 regular season this weekend with a home series against St. Cloud State. With three new additions to the Gophers defense, containing a Huskies offense that led the WCHA in scoring last season could mean a steep learning curve for some of the freshmen defensemen. âÄúItâÄôs definitely going to be a challenge,âÄù freshman defenseman Aaron Ness said. âÄúTheyâÄôve got a lot of skilled forwards up front.âÄù The Huskies bring back the WCHAâÄôs top two scorers from last season in junior Ryan Lasch and sophomore Garrett Roe. Lasch put up 53 points (25 goals and 28 assists) en route to earning the 2008 WCHA scoring crown and being named a top-10 finalist for the Hobey Baker Award. Roe was tied for second with T.J. Oshie, who left North Dakota early for the NHL. Both had 45 points last season. Both found a lot of success with teammate Andreas Nodl, who also departed early from college hockey for a pro career after last season. But the duoâÄôs stats arenâÄôt dropping much, at least early in the season. Along with senior forward John Swanson, the three Huskies tallied 17 points in St. Cloud StateâÄôs two-game sweep over Mercyhurst College last weekend. âÄúCertainly, I think they have more scoring depth than last year,âÄù Gophers coach Don Lucia said. The Huskies scored seven goals in both games and allowed only five all weekend. âÄúObviously, defense will be huge [this weekend],âÄù sophomore defenseman Cade Fairchild said. To counter the Huskies offense, Minnesota will count on its veteran defensemen like Fairchild, senior R.J. Anderson, juniors David Fischer and Brian Schack and sophomore Kevin Wehrs. Fairchild knows what itâÄôs like to be thrown into the fire as a freshmen âÄî he was brought in to replace the trio of Erik Johnson, Alex Goligoski and Mike Vannelli. âÄúLast year was a little bit different because we didnâÄôt have the older guys to play in front of us âĦ we had to play and adjust as we went,âÄù Fairchild said. âÄúI think this year, youâÄôll see more of the upperclassmen playing more and letting the younger guys take a few reps.âÄù With Ness and freshman defensemen Grant Scott already filling in the lines, and freshman Sam Lofquist slowly easing back into action, the big question is whether the freshmen defense is ready for the Huskies offense. âÄúWe have to be, itâÄôs not a matter of âÄòif,âÄô âÄù Lucia said. âÄúIf we had our druthers would we have liked to play a nonconference series this weekend, sure, but we didnâÄôt have the opportunity to do that.âÄù