Early schedule has Minnesotan flavor

by Ben Gotz

After traveling to Indiana for their opening games of the season, the Gophers will be staying in their home state for a while.

Minnesota will play three in-state rivals — Bemidji State, St. Cloud State and Minnesota-Duluth — in the next month.

The teams faced each other often in the WCHA conference. Despite the Gophers’ shift into the Big Ten before last season, the rivalries have remained.

“These games will always be rivalry games for us,” senior forward Travis Boyd said before the Gophers played Minnesota-Duluth in the Ice Breaker Tournament.

Sophomore forward Justin Kloos joined the Gophers after they left the WCHA, but he said he was still eager to play the other Division I Minnesota hockey teams.

“We grew up watching the WCHA, so we saw all these rivalries just build and build. I’m stoked to be able to play my first game at St. Cloud and Duluth in a couple weeks,” Kloos said.

Continuing the rivalries brings benefits, like boosted attendance for both programs.

When the Gophers traveled to play Bemidji State last year, the recorded attendance for the two games was the second- and third-best at home for the Beavers all season.

Lucia said being close to home is a good thing. And while staying in-state does make travel easier for the Gophers, it doesn’t make their schedule any easier.

In the latest USCHO.com poll on Monday, three other in-state schools besides Minnesota were included in the rankings.

Bemidji State was the one school not represented, but it already has an upset victory over then-No. 2 North Dakota on its resume.

The quality of teams within the state makes the Gophers’ goal of “winning the state” challenging, but it’s an obstacle Lucia seems to embrace.

“I think it’s great that we play our in-state schools,” Lucia said. “It gives us an opportunity to have some rivalry games within our state, and I think that’s important to Minnesota hockey.”

Freshman to see first action

Freshman forward Leon Bristedt will be in the Gophers’ lineup for the first time this weekend, Lucia said.

Bristedt had to sit out the first two games of the season after playing with professionals on an amateur team in Sweden.

“He’s a good player, and he’s going to be thrown right in,” Lucia said. “We’ll see what he can do this weekend.”