Fresh-faced Gophers ready to begin regular season

After losing nearly half their roster in the offseason, the Gophers are entering the season with 11 freshmen.

Forward Ryan Norman skates after the puck at 3M Arena at Mariucci on Friday, Mar. 1. The Gophers defeated Arizona State 5-1. 

Jack Rodgers

Forward Ryan Norman skates after the puck at 3M Arena at Mariucci on Friday, Mar. 1. The Gophers defeated Arizona State 5-1. 

Julianna Landis

This year the Gophers men’s hockey team will take the ice with a much younger look than last season. 

The Gophers lost 11 players from last season to either graduation or professional signing and have replaced them with 11 new freshmen in addition to a large returning sophomore class. Currently, 70 percent of Minnesota’s roster is made up of underclassmen.

While the talent of the young core is something to be excited about, the losses from last season have made an impact on special teams.

“We had a really good power play last year — they’re all gone,” head coach Bob Motzko said. “That unit that led us, there’s not one of them here. We were No. 1 in the conference in penalty kill, they’re all gone except for [Ryan] Zuhlsdorf and [Tyler] Nanne.” 

With only a few practices under their belts, the team is still working on the makeup of both the penalty kill and the power play. 

Freshman forward Bryce Brodzinski said the team was “definitely in for one” with so many newcomers on the roster, but is confident in the work the team has put in so far and thinks the freshman class is good enough to play right away. 

The transition to the college game, and college in general, has been made easier by having a number of teammates going through the same experiences, Brodzinski said. With the regular season nearly upon them, first year players are eager to begin playing.

“We’re all super excited about the season,” Brodzinksi said. “I think we’re really looking forward to getting at it right away, and hopefully turning a few heads.” 

Motzko emphasized during the Gophers’ media day that the team is in a period of transition, and that finding the roles where players fit best will take time. 

With the season just beginning, the team has only had about three weeks of practice and the inexperience of the roster shows, he said. Once the season is underway, Motzko said, the little things will sort themselves out.    

Even with the inexperience the roster has, Motzko said he feels the relationships between the coaching staff and players are stronger than they were last year. Last season was Motzko’s first with the Gophers after taking over for former head coach Don Lucia. Now, with the staff in their second year at Minnesota, Motzko said he is more comfortable in his role and has a clearer vision for the team. 

“I have a good feel right now,” Motzko said. “I’ve been doing this a while so I know where we’re short right now, and I’m good with it.”  

After a 2-2 tie in an exhibition game with Mount Royal on Sunday, Oct. 6, the Gophers now focus on their first regular season series. They will travel to Colorado Springs, CO to play their first opponent, Colorado College, for a two-game series on Oct. 11 and 12.