MINNEAPOLIS — The 101st season of Gopher men’s hockey finally gets underway this weekend as No. 4 Minnesota welcomes Mercyhurst to 3M Arena at Mariucci for the 2021-22 season-opening series. After last weekend’s series with Alaska was unexpectedly postponed and rescheduled, this year’s campaign opens on Friday, Oct. 8 at 7:00 p.m. CT. Game two of the series will be Saturday, Oct. 9 at 5:00 p.m. CT
GOPHERS EXTEND MOTZKO THROUGH 2025-26
The University of Minnesota has agreed to a three-year contract extension with Gopher men’s hockey head coach Bob Motzko that will keep Motzko with the Maroon & Gold through the 2025-26 season. The agreement is subject to Board of Regents approval. A native of Austin, Minn., Motzko enters his fourth season with the Gophers in 2021-22 and holds a 58-37-11 record since taking over the program in 2018. In 16 seasons as a Division I head coach, the 2020 Big Ten Coach of the Year and five-time conference coach of the year owns a 334-229-60 record after 13 seasons at St. Cloud State.
PRESEASON BIG TEN PROSPECTUS
The Gophers landed on the top spot of the 2021-22 Big Ten Hockey Coaches’ Poll earlier this season ahead of Michigan, Wisconsin, Notre Dame, Penn State, Michigan State and Ohio State. In the eight-year history of the Big Ten Conference, the Gophers have claimed a league-high four regular-season conference championships as well as two Big Ten tournament titles including last year’s thrilling playoff run by the Maroon & Gold. Minnesota also led the Big Ten with six individuals on the 2021-22 Preseason All-Big Ten Hockey Teams, headlined by four players earning First Team honors. The Gophers were represented in the preseason honor roll by Jackson LaCombe (First Team), Jack LaFontaine (First Team), Ben Meyers (First Team), Sammy Walker (First Team), Brock Faber (Second Team) and Ryan Johnson (Second Team). Mike Koster also earned honorable mention honors on behalf of the Maroon & Gold.
AGAINST THE LAKERS
Minnesota and Mercyhurst have met three times previously in a series history that dates back to 2003. The Gophers are 3-0-0 all-time against the Lakers with all three games taking place at 3M Arena at Mariucci. This will be the first two-game series between the two teams after three tournament matchups (a 9-2 win in the 2003 NCAA West Regional semifinal, a 6-0 win in the 2013 Ice Breaker Tournament semifinal and a 5-1 win in the 2016-17 Mariucci Classic) — Minnesota went on to win all three tournaments including advancing out of the 2003 NCAA West Regional and eventually winning the 2003 NCAA title. The Maroon & Gold have outscored Mercyhurst 20-3 in the series’ three-game history.
WEARING THE ‘C’
The 101st season of Gopher Hockey will see three familiar faces and college hockey veterans leading the ‘U’ as Sammy Walker, Jack LaFontaine and Ben Meyers have been named team captains for the 2021-22 season. Walker will enter his senior season wearing a “C” for the third-straight season for the Maroon & Gold while LaFontaine and Meyers have been elevated to share the honors after serving as alternate captains during the 2020-21 campaign. With all three players returning to the Minnesota leadership group, Gopher Hockey has now featured 175 captains dating back to the school’s first season of play in 1921-22 when Chet Bros led the Maroon & Gold as team captain.
JACK IS BACK
Mike Richter Award winner and Hobey Baker Award finalist Jack LaFontaine returns to the Gophers for his fifth season of college hockey in 2021-22. A First Team All-American and First Team All-Big Ten selection, LaFontaine was also named the Big Ten Goaltender of the Year. The Carolina Hurricane prospect set new school records and was among the NCAA leaders with a .934 save percentage and a 1.79 GAA while he led the nation with 22 wins. Off the ice, LaFontaine was named a recipient of the Big Ten Medal of Honor and was the only Division I men’s hockey player to earn CoSIDA First Team Academic All-America honors.
NEW TO SCHOOL
Minnesota’s veteran lineup will be bolstered by seven newcomers this season with six freshmen and one transfer. Among the freshmen are goaltender Brennan Boynton (Champlin, Minn.) forward Tristan Broz (Bloomington, Minn.), forward Aaron Huglen (Roseau, Minn.), forward Matthew Knies (Phoenix, Ariz.), forward Chaz Lucius (Grant, Minn.) and forward Rhett Pitlick (Plymouth, Minn.). Forward Grant Cruikshank (Delafield, Wis.) also joins the Gophers as a senior after three seasons at Colorado College.
Gopher all-American Jackson LaCombe spoke with MNN sports director Mike Grimm:
(info and photos courtesy of Gopher Sports)