Freshmen class carries big expectations into opener

Adam Fink

Chris Harrington took a pass near the blue line during practice Monday and quickly fired a one-timer toward the net.

The puck breezed past the outstretched glove of Minnesota men’s hockey goaltender Justin Johnson and into the net.

It was only one goal and it means little in the grand scheme of practice, but it was an encouraging sign for the Gophers, who are attempting to replace Jordan Leopold, last year’s Hobey Baker winner.

Harrington is one of eight freshmen suiting up this year for No. 1 Minnesota. The nationally-heralded freshmen class will be counted on heavily this season under fourth-year coach Don Lucia.

“We are coming in with a target on our backs,” Harrington said. “It is going to be a big challenge to replace – more like step in – for the guys that are gone now. We need to stay on the right track and help each other out.”

With four forwards, three defensemen and a goalie rounding out the eight-person class, there is room on the roster for each to make an impact.

In fact, their development might decide the fate of this young Gopher team. The freshmen could push the starters for playing time and make a difference in the lineup.

The early prognosis on the group has been positive.

“They are making the transition,” Lucia said. “All have shown they will be good hockey players.”

Specifically, forwards Gino Guyer, Thomas Vanek, Tyler Hirsch and Andy Sertich have already received rave reviews about their stick handling ability. Defensemen Harrington, P.J. Atherton and Peter Kennedy have impressed their elder counterparts with their speed.

“We expect to be good and make an immediate impact,” Vanek said. “We are all fighting and working hard. We came here to win a championship.”

The transition to college hockey isn’t easy, especially with expectations to replace the ice time left by the departed Leopold and Johnny Pohl, among others.

However, these eight players aren’t focused on making people forget last season’s magic.

“This is our big opportunity to show the skills we have and contribute,” Harrington said. “We want to continue the success the people before us started.”

Lineup not set

The lineup of players for this weekend’s opener with Ohio State will be decided Thursday, Lucia said.

The Gophers will continue to adjust the lines until Lucia finds a more constant rotation.

In addition, there is still an opening at the center position. Senior Nick Anthony, junior Matt Koalska and freshman Guyer are competing at the position, but Lucia said there is still a fourth opening.

“We will have to rotate around and find a fourth center,” Lucia said. “Someone will emerge.”

New mural

A new mural honoring Minnesota’s All-Americans will be in place this season by the home opener Nov. 1.

Craig Flor, facilities manager for Mariucci Arena, said the Gophers’ four All-Americans since 1995 (Brian Bonin, Mike Crowley, Leopold and Pohl) will be put on the new mural, located above Section 22 in the northeast corner.

Adam Fink covers men’s hockey and welcomes comments at [email protected]