Regular season opens tonight at Mariucci Arena

Chris Lempesis

While Minnesota’s men’s hockey team’s Oct. 6 exhibition win over Alberta was nice enough, the real season starts tonight.

The top-ranked Gophers open their regular season with a nonconference series against Central Collegiate Hockey Association opponent Alaska-Fairbanks this weekend. Game times are set for 7:07 p.m. tonight and Saturday at Mariucci Arena.

While coming out of the weekend with two wins is paramount for Minnesota, it is also just looking for some early season growth.

“That’s a key part of Gopher hockey,” junior forward Ryan Potulny said. “That’s why they’ve been so successful. They grow as the season goes on and just kind of get better and better.”

On the offensive end, Potulny said the team has to utilize its considerable speed, moving its feet in order to create chances.

Behind their own blue line, senior defenseman P.J. Atherton said the unit is basically just hoping to be solid.

“We’re going to try to move the puck real well like we always do,” he said, “and jump in the offense when we can – but mainly play solid defense, try to shut them down and not give up a whole lot.”

Another area where Minnesota is looking for growth is from its youngsters. The team has a talented class of freshmen and this weekend should be important for them as it is their first taste of real competition.

“You want to get your young guys, especially, playing time,” coach Don Lucia said. “Try to get them acclimated to college hockey before we start the WCHA next week.”

Lucia also said the team will try to get as many players on the ice as possible against the Nanooks to achieve some early season rhythm.

So maybe growing and finding continuity, and looking strong doing it, are almost as important as wins – at least early on.

“You do want to win games and that’s what we’re looking for right away but we want to play well too,” Potulny said. “We don’t want to just win, play bad and get a win.”