Untouted but undeterred

by Austin Cumblad

Entering the 2010-11 season, the Minnesota menâÄôs hockey comes without its usual sheen. For the first time in 10 years, the Gophers begin the season ranked outside the Top 10 nationally; their most recent memory is the programâÄôs first losing season since 1998; and they havenâÄôt made the NCAA tournament in two years. It stands to reason, then, that Minnesota circa 2010 isnâÄôt concerned with flashiness. ItâÄôs all about starting strong âÄî much stronger than last season when the Gophers lost and were shut out in three of their first four games âÄî and their chance to do so is here. Minnesota hosts Massachusetts on Friday and Saturday, 7 p.m. at Mariucci Arena, to open its regular season. The Gophers and Minutemen have met only once before, in 2004 in distant Alaska. âÄúWe can just go play,âÄù head coach Don Lucia said of facing such an unfamiliar opponent to open the season, as opposed to perennial rival North Dakota a year ago. âÄúOur emphasis right now is on our team.âÄù LuciaâÄôs team is an intriguing mix of newcomers and veterans, picked by both coaches and the media to finish in the middle of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association. In MinnesotaâÄôs exhibition against British Columbia last weekend, Erik Haula and Nick Bjugstad, two of ten freshmen on the roster, respectively centered the first and second lines. Surrounding Haula, however, were seniors Mike Hoeffel and Jay Barriball. Five games into last season, just after hitting the 100-point milestone, Barriball suffered a season-ending knee injury and took a medical redshirt. Now a healthy captain, he figures to be a key cog in the GophersâÄô offense. âÄúItâÄôs been too long,âÄù Barriball said of the break from college hockey. âÄúI havenâÄôt sat out this much hockey since I started [playing as a kid]. ItâÄôs really exciting.âÄù Barriball had a pair of assists against British Columbia, both on plays that Minnesota knocked in back-door goals. The Gophers were dangerous around the net all night. âÄúWe have felt that weâÄôve been too much of a perimeter team the last couple yearsâĦso the point of emphasis is trying to get guys to the net,âÄù Lucia said. âÄúIn this day and age, if youâÄôre going to score goals, youâÄôve got to get to [the crease].âÄù Barriball calls them âÄúdirty goals,âÄù but Minnesota will take the function over the form any day. How the lines will shake out Friday remains to be seen, Lucia said. Without guaranteeing anything, he said 21-year-old freshman Tom Serratore, who had a goal and hit two pipes on Sunday, earned a chance to play, and that senior Alex Kangas would most likely start in net on Friday. âÄúGuys are battling for position, trying to make the lineup every night,âÄù senior defender Cade Fairchild said. âÄúIn turn, I think thatâÄôs making our team a little more aggressive.âÄù