Wheeler highlights five recruit signings

Blake Wheeler was the first U.S. player taken in June’s NHL entry draft.

Ben Goessling

Minnesota’s men’s hockey team officially announced its 2005-06 recruiting class Wednesday, after five incoming freshmen signed national letters of intent to play for the Gophers.

The headliner of the class is former Breck High School forward Blake Wheeler, who is currently playing with the United States Hockey League’s Green Bay Gamblers. Wheeler became the highest-drafted high school player since 1983 and the first American taken in last summer’s NHL entry draft when Phoenix selected him fifth in June.

The 6-foot-4-inch forward led the state in scoring last season and carried Breck to the Class A state championship.

“The forwards in this class are skilled, but they’re big,” coach Don Lucia said. “They address a need with some size.”

Minnesota’s recruiting class also includes forward Ryan Stoa and goaltender Jeff Frazee, who are playing with the U.S. National Team Development Program this season in Ann Arbor, Mich.

The 6-foot-2-inch Stoa, formerly of Bloomington Kennedy High School, is fourth on the team with six goals and eight assists in 15 games.

Frazee, who played for Holy Angels High School, is thought to be one of the top goaltending prospects in the country. He is 5-2 with a 2.65 goals against average this season.

Also in the fold are defenseman R.J. Anderson, a senior at Centennial High School who helped the Cougars to the 2004 Class AA state championship, and former Mounds View High School forward Justin Bostrom, who is currently with Sioux City, Iowa, in the USHL.

Bostrom has not played this year because of mononucleosis.

Minnesota has also received verbal commitments from forward Peter Mueller and defenseman Erik Johnson for the 2006-07 season, but neither player has signed a letter of intent.

Lucia is prohibited from commenting on recruits who have not signed letters of intent, but he said the team is looking to sign one more forward for next year.

Minnesota’s prime target is believed to be Phil Kessel, a member of the U.S. National Team Development Program’s under-18 team this year.

Kessel, a Verona, Wis., native, is ranked by most publications as the top 2005-06 recruit in the country and is thought to be heavily considering Minnesota and Michigan.

He has taken an official visit to Wisconsin but most likely will not make a decision on a college until early next year.

Hagemo back in lineup

Lucia said defenseman Nate Hagemo, who missed the Wisconsin series with a neck injury, will play this weekend at Denver.

Pioneers a hot ticket

Buoyed by its 2004 NCAA title and the NHL lockout, Denver suddenly is selling out Magness Arena regularly.

The Pioneers had only 18 sellouts in program history before this year, but they have played to capacity crowds in all three of their home games this year.

“The timing has been interesting. Both things have worked very much in our favor,” coach George Gwozdecky said. “This is a city very similar to Minneapolis in that we’ve got four major league teams. There’s a tremendous amount of competition for the entertainment dollar, and the championship run helped us.”

Denver figures to sell out both games this weekend, and Gophers defenseman Chris Harrington said he expects to receive a rude welcome.

“Anytime you’re playing the defending national champs, they’re going to have a great crowd,” he said. “You can’t worry about that. You have to play your game.”