Ice time for freshmen, goaltending concern Lucia

Brian Stensaas

Two days away from its season opener with North Dakota, Minnesota’s men’s hockey team addressed the media Wednesday with a bit of a different feel.

The Gophers return to the ice with six sophomores who combined to score 52 goals and 65 assists for 117 points last season as freshmen; the most productive first-year unit in the nation. This year’s incoming class, though talented, is not expected to produce nearly as much.

“I think it will be a little more difficult for our freshmen to make the same impact this year,” coach Don Lucia said. “They’re not going to be given the same opportunity as far as ice time.”

Lucia said he plans on using only one or two rookies this season on the power play as opposed to using up to four freshmen with the man advantage a year ago.

Last year’s freshmen were put out on the ice with the likes of veterans Erik Westrum, John Pohl and Jordan Leopold – proven goal scorers and team leaders.

Now those freshmen are in the upper echelon and it’s their turn to guide the newcomers.

“It was definitely a benefit for us to be put in a spot where we could make plays and be counted on,” sophomore Grant Potulny said. “We got a chance to play and it worked out well for us.”

Potulny led all Minnesota freshmen in scoring with 22 goals and 11 assists and joined Paul Martin and Troy Riddle on the WCHA all-rookie team a year ago.

Two of the new faces for the Gophers this season are goaltenders and will – for once – give senior Adam Hauser a chance to breathe every so often.

For the last three years, Hauser has been the man between the pipes for Minnesota virtually all by himself. He has played in 116 of the Gophers last 126 games, clocking nearly 7,000 minutes in net.

Hauser, a third-team all-WCHA pick last season, set program records for games and minutes played last season.

With Justin Johnson and Travis Weber each vying for time, Hauser will likely get more games off this season.

“Whatever Coach wants is what I am going to do,” Hauser said on the possibility of taking the occasional night off. “I’m just going to keep working hard and if he feels I need a break, I’ll take it. He’s the coach.”

One option Lucia will now have is to pull the starter in net if he is having a bad game and replace him with another solid goalie.

“Hopefully that doesn’t happen,” Lucia said. “I don’t think it is so much (replacement) as it is just being able to have a day off. It gets to be such a mental grind throughout the year, it’s good to have a couple nights off.”

Last season, Johnson played with the Lincoln Stars (USHL) while Weber stopped shots for the U.S. National Development Team in Michigan – the same program Hauser trained with prior to playing for the Gophers.

ï Lucia said Pohl, Potulny, Riddle, Jeff Taffe and Matt Koalska will begin the season as forwards on the power-play unit with Pat O’Leary also getting a chance to play.

The Gophers finished second in the nation last season with a 25.4 power-play percentage.

ï For the first time in decades, WCCO radio will be in charge of Minnesota hockey broadcasts this season. WCCO will carry 24 of the team’s 37 games. The remaining 13 games will be broadcast on KDOW due to conflicts with the Minnesota Wild, Minnesota Vikings and Gophers basketball.

Though an official contract has yet to be signed, look for Fox Sports North to carry 32 games this season on television. The station will air 25 games live with the other seven games to be aired either on tape-delay or branched out to another station.