Gophers men’s hockey drops the puck Saturday — here’s what you need to know

The Gophers are ranked No. 4 in the nation in both national polls on USCHO.com’s Division I Men’s Poll and the USA Today/USA Magazine’s Men’s College Hockey Poll.

Gophers+men%E2%80%99s+hockey+captain+Sammy+Walker+celebrates+a+goal+he+scored+en+route+to+a+10-0+win+against+Arizona+State+on+Thursday%2C+Jan.+21%2C+2021%2C+at+3M+Arena+at+Mariucci+in+Minneapolis%2C+Minn.

Brad Rempel - Gopher Athletics

Gophers men’s hockey captain Sammy Walker celebrates a goal he scored en route to a 10-0 win against Arizona State on Thursday, Jan. 21, 2021, at 3M Arena at Mariucci in Minneapolis, Minn.

by Michael Lyne

Gophers men’s hockey will start the season as the No. 4 ranked team in USCHO.com’s Division I Men’s Poll and the USA Today/USA Magazine’s Men’s College Hockey Poll, which announced their rankings Monday.

In the 2020-2021 season, the Gophers’ record was 24-7, with their losses coming against Wisconsin (3), Notre Dame (2), Michigan and Minnesota State in the NCAA West Regional Final.

The reigning Big Ten champions were also voted the No. 1 team heading into the 2021-2022 season in the Big Ten hockey preseason coaches poll, announced by the conference Friday.

2021-2022 schedule highlights

The Gophers begin their 2021-2022 season with four non-conference series, and their first two-game series is at home against the University of Alaska Fairbanks. They will drop the puck at 2:30 p.m. on Saturday and 4:00 p.m. on Sunday. The Nanooks canceled all their games last season due to COVID-19.

After their two-game set against Alaska, the Gophers will face off at home against Mercyhurst while splitting the series against St. Cloud State and Minnesota-Duluth.
St. Cloud State and Minnesota-Duluth will be two tough early series for the reigning Big Ten champions. Last season, Minnesota-Duluth made it to the Frozen Four while St. Cloud State was the NCAA Division I Men’s Ice Hockey Tournament runner-up.

The Gophers will begin their Big Ten schedule on Friday, Oct. 29, with a two-game home series against Notre Dame. Then, they will travel to Madison, Wis., to take on the Badgers for their first border battle series of the season, with the first game scheduled for Friday, Nov. 5.
In the middle of the season on Thanksgiving weekend, the Gophers will play one last non-conference series on the road against a long-time rival in North Dakota, with the first game on Friday, Nov. 26.

The Gophers will close out their season at home for a two-game series against Wisconsin, with the first puck drop on Friday, Feb. 25.

Gophers took over Preseason All-Big Ten Teams

The Gophers had six players make one of the two Preseason All-Big Ten Teams, which makes up half of the players combined between the two teams.

All three of the Gophers’ captains in graduate student goaltender Jack LaFontaine, senior forward Sammy Walker and junior forward Ben Meyers were named to the First Preseason All-Big Ten Team by the conference. Junior defenseman Jackson LaCombe joins them as their fourth player to earn recognition on the team.

Last season, LaFontaine won the Mike Richter Award, which honors the nation’s best goaltender. He had a .934 save percentage, a 1.79 goals-against average, and led the nation with 22 wins. He was also named the Big Ten Goaltender of the Year and was the only Division I men’s hockey player to earn CoSIDA First Team Academic All-America honors.

Walker had his most productive season in a Gophers uniform last year, notching a career-high 13 goals and 29 points in 31 games, which is one point short of his best collegiate season despite playing six fewer games due to COVID-19.

Meyers earned career-highs of 12 goals and 28 points, while LaCombe led all Big Ten defensemen in scoring and recorded career highs in goals (4), assists (17) and points (21).

Junior defenseman Ryan Johnson and sophomore defenseman Brock Faber earned spots on the Second Preseason All-Big Team.

Johnson recorded career-highs in goals (2), assists (12) and points (14) last season, while Faber led all Gophers freshmen in points with 12 (one goal, 11 assists) and led the team in blocked shots with 39.

The star-studded freshman class

This upcoming season, the Gophers’ freshman class has some serious talent to bring to the 3M Arena at Mariucci.
Forwards Aaron Huglen and Rhett Pitlick were drafted in the 2019 NHL Draft by the Buffalo Sabres (4th round, 102nd overall) and Montreal Canadiens (5th round, 131st overall).

Last year, Pitlick collected six goals and 14 assists (20 points) in 26 games for the Tri-City Storm, while Huglen had 15 goals and 20 assists (35 points) in 39 games for the Fargo Force.

Forwards Chaz Lucius, Matthew Knies and Tristan Broz were selected in the 2021 NHL Draft earlier this year.

The Winnipeg Jets selected Lucius in the first round with the 18th overall pick. Last year, he played for USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program (13 goals and five assists in 12 games) and the U.S. U-18 National Team (13 goals and seven assists in 13 games).

Knies (57th overall) and Broz (58th overall) were drafted back-to-back in the second round by the Toronto Maple Leafs and Pittsburgh Penguins.

Last year, Knies played with Pitlick for the Tri-City Storm, collecting 17 goals and 25 assists (42 points) in 44 games, while Broz played with Huglen for the Fargo Force, where he had 19 goals and 32 assists (51 points) in 54 games.

Lastly, goaltender Brennan Boynton rounds out the Gophers’ freshmen class. He played alongside Huglen and Broz for the Fargo Force last season, posting a 26-16-1 record with a .901 save percentage and 2.43 goals-against average.