Sophomore class overlooked but still potent

by Chris Lempesis

Much of the talk surrounding the 2005-06 Minnesota men’s hockey team has been about the incoming freshman class, considered one of the nation’s best.

But it’s the group of players who were freshmen last season that will play just as much of, if not more of, a vital role in determining the top-ranked Gophers’ success this season.

Minnesota’s 10-player sophomore class is the largest on the team. That group, as a whole, is coming off a fairly successful freshmen campaign and knows it has to take a big step up in the all-important second year.

“We’re going to have a little higher expectations upon ourselves,” forward Evan Kaufmann said.

“We’re going to have to play the way we’re supposed to and be able to play in tight spots for coach when he wants us in there.”

Kaufmann had one of the stronger seasons of the bunch last year, recording seven goals and six assists for 13 points.

Other players in that group include defensemen Alex Goligoski (5-15-20) and Derek Peltier (6-13-19) and forwards Mike Howe (7-18-15) and Kris Chucko (10-11-21).

It was Chucko’s name, more than any other, that came up in terms of sophomores on the verge of a real breakout season.

Kaufmann and senior forward Gino Guyer pointed to Chucko’s improved skating as a big reason for the optimism.

Coach Don Lucia said he is also excited about Chucko.

“Up front, I think (Chucko) is the leader of that group of sophomores,” Lucia said. “He’s made a big step in his development.”

Another player who has developed, albeit in a different way, is Goligoski. He has put on almost 15 pounds from last season; Lucia said he feels the improved strength will help Goligoski stay healthier than last season, when he struggled with a broken hand and shoulder problems.

Goligoski is not the only sophomore defenseman who has to stay healthy this season.

Both of his sophomore blue line-mates, Peltier (broken hand and shoulder problems) and Nate Hagemo (shoulder) fought off injuries last season. Good health will be key for them as Lucia said the threesome is being counted on.

“We need those three sophomores to be the mainstays on our blue line this year,” he said.

“They’re going to be counted on to play significant minutes.”

As a whole, significant minutes – and significant results – from the sophomores should keep Minnesota in the running throughout the season.

Wehrs verbally commits

The Gophers have received a verbal commitment from defenseman Kevin Wehrs for the 2007-2008 season, his father Dan said Wednesday.

His father said Wehrs informed Minnesota assistant coach Mike Guentzel of his decision Oct. 5. He also said that while his son verbally committed for 2007-2008, he could be eligible to play as early as next season if the team feels he’s ready.

Wehrs, listed at 5-9, 165 pounds, is a Plymouth native currently playing for the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders of the United States Hockey League. He is also a senior in high school.

His Dan Wehrs said his son was being pursued by Minnesota State-Mankato, St. Cloud State, Minnesota-Duluth, New Hampshire and Boston University, among others. Dan Wehrs also said Minnesota was the last school his son visited.

“The best for last,” his father said.

Wind swimmer of the week

Senior swimmer Katie Wind was named co-Big Ten swimmer of the week on Wednesday. She won the 100- and 200-yard backstroke events in Minnesota’s season opening dual meet at Kansas on Saturday.