Freshmen live up to hype in exhibition game at Mariucci

Freshmen forwards Blake Wheeler, Phil Kessel and Ryan Stoa each scored goals.

by Chris Lempesis

Many things came out of Minnesota’s men’s hockey team’s exhibition contest with Alberta on Thursday night, but one thing stood out above all else: The kids are going to be all right.

The Gophers’ highly touted freshman class accounted for three goals and five points in leading top-ranked Minnesota to a 4-3 win over the Bears at Mariucci Arena.

“I said ‘Now, next week they count,’ ” coach Don Lucia said.

“And they get to keep the goal if they score.

“They made some good plays, but Ö you can tell they belong.”

Top recruit Phil Kessel and Blake Wheeler had a goal and an assist each. Ryan Stoa picked up a goal as well.

The three goals put up by the youngsters were the Gophers’ final three goals of the game, and all came in the final two periods.

The fact that all the freshman goals came late might have stemmed from a case of butterflies early on, something both Kessel and Stoa admitted to.

“(The) whole game I was pretty nervous,” Kessel said. “I didn’t settle down, basically until the late second, third period.”

The final two frames also saw the debut of another heralded freshman, goaltender Jeff Frazee.

Frazee allowed two Alberta goals, one in each period, but was otherwise fairly sharp, stopping a total of 16 shots.

“He had to make some saves and hey, we know what Kellen can do,” Lucia said, referring to junior Kellen Briggs, the game’s starter. “We wanted to get Jeff out there and so that was the plan before the game.”

The performance of the freshmen was very indicative of the rest of the team Thursday.

Minnesota showed considerable rust in the first period but gradually played better throughout the final 40 minutes.

“We definitely started playing better towards the end of the game,” said sophomore defenseman Alex Goligoski, himself a three-point performer Thursday. “As far as our system and stuff, getting used to where guys are going to be and everything started to come together a little bit more.”

While on the surface a 4-3 win over an outmatched opponent might seem to be a cause for concern, Lucia said he knew Alberta (3-2-0 overall) – defending Canadian national champions – would give his team a good game.

As for the performance of the Gophers, Lucia said it was good but that Minnesota has a long way to go. And, as the song says, not much time to get there.

The Gophers open their regular season next weekend as they host Alaska Fairbanks.

For this talented group of freshmen, the series with the Nanooks will be the first indicator of whether Thursday was a sign of things to come or just a one-off fluke.