Youth expected to play large role right away

Preseason polls have picked the Gophers to end the season fourth in the WCHA, with no Gophers among the top potential players in the conference, raising questions as to who will emerge as the GophersâÄô top scoring threat. A large incoming freshman class of 12 comprises almost half the squad. However, the Gophers debuted ninth in national preseason polls despite having a young team, and the freshman class proves to be ripe with talent. Gophers head coach Don Lucia said he is unsure of what he expects to see from the new players this year. âÄúI think theyâÄôre going to contribute,âÄù he said. âÄúTheyâÄôre going to do well.âÄù Two players to watch this season will be defenseman Aaron Ness and forward Jordan Schroeder. Both players received five votes for WCHA preseason Rookie of the Year. Ness âÄúcool with the puckâÄù Eighteen -year-old Ness enters the squad as the teamâÄôs youngest player. Ness, who accelerated his studies at Roseau High School to graduate in three years, was named Mr. Hockey of Minnesota last year. He helped the Rams to a Class AA state championship in 2007 and a fourth-place finish in last yearâÄôs tournament, where he scored two goals in the RamsâÄô 8-2 victory against Blaine in the first round. Ness ended last season for the Rams with 28 goals. He also competed for a bronze medal with the U.S. National Under-18 team, where he tallied six assists. In the GophersâÄô Oct . 10 victory against British Columbia, NessâÄô first collegiate game, he tallied two shots on goal. This weekend Ness managed six shots on goal, helping the Gophers to a series sweep of St. Cloud State. Though Ness is still in search of his first goal for the Gophers, Lucia said heâÄôs confident in NessâÄô ability to be a strong contributor to the team. âÄúHe played well. HeâÄôs cool with the puck,âÄù Lucia said, adding that the game was a new environment for him and probably âÄúa little bit of an eye-opener.âÄù Ness was chosen 40th overall in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft by the New York Islanders. Schroeder is freshman points-leader The 19-year-old Prior Lake native has spent the past two seasons playing with the U.S. National Team Development program in Ann Arbor, Mich. He competed at the World Junior Championships in the Czech Republic last year, helping the U.S. Under-20 team to a fourth-place finish with a tournament-leading seven assists. With three assists this past weekend, Schroeder leads the freshman class in total points. He is also in search of his first goal this season, but led the team in faceoffs Friday night against the Huskies. Though Schroeder is still undrafted, Lucia said he expects a solid performance from Schroeder this season. âÄúHe was what we expected him to be: out at the last minute killing penalties, playing on the power play and playing a significant role for us,âÄù Lucia said. However, Lucia said strong development among the returning players during the offseason will also contribute to the teamâÄôs success this season. âÄúItâÄôs not about the freshmen,âÄù Lucia said. âÄúItâÄôs about the old guys.âÄù