The Gopher men’s hockey program continues the 2020-21 season — the 100th campaign in program history — with a Monday/Tuesday series against Ohio State this week at 3M Arena at Mariucci. The action begins tonight at 7:30 p.m, while the Gophers and the Buckeyes will close up a four-game homestand for Minnesota tomorrow at 7:30 p.m.
CELEBRATING 100 SEASONS OF PRIDE ON ICE
The 2020-21 campaign marks the 100th season of play for the University of Minnesota, dating back to the 1921-22 season. Since that first season, the Gophers have hoisted five national championship trophies (1974, 1976, 1979, 2002, 2003), celebrated four Hobey Baker Award winners (Neal Broten in 1981, Robb Stauber in 1988, Brian Bonin in 1996, Jordan Leopold in 2002) and earned a total of 65 All-America honors. The Maroon & Gold have produced over a hundred NHL players with 11 alums having their names engraved on the Stanley Cup while other Pride on Ice products have been part of some of the most iconic international hockey events in history including U.S. Olympic gold medals in 1960 and 1980. Throughout the season, the University of Minnesota will honor the people, the moments and the memories that define “Pride on Ice”.
SIX DAYS, FOUR GAMES, TWO SERIES
Minnesota opens the 2020-21 campaign in unusual fashion for an unusual year with four home games in a four-day span. The Gophers swept Penn State (4-1, 3-2 on Thursday and Friday of last week) to improve to 61-37-2 in 100 home openers and 18-8-2 in home openers at 3M Arena at Mariucci while Bob Motzko is no 3-0-0 in home openers with the Maroon & Gold. Additionally, the ‘U’ is now 6-1-1 in Big Ten openers. Minnesota will now take on Ohio State to close out the short, four-game home stand.
AGAINST THE BUCKEYES
The Gophers are 31-8-5 all-time against Ohio State in series that began in 1968 (17-2-3 on home ice). Minnesota swept the Buckeyes in a two-game series the last time the programs faced each other (6-3 on Jan. 24, 2020, 4-1 on Jan. 25, 2020…both games at 3M Arena at Mariucci). Sammy Walker (seven assists) and Sampo Ranta (five goals, two assists) lead all active Gophers with seven points each against OSU — both Gophers have played eight career games against the the foe.
GOPHERS ANNOUNCE CENTURY SEASON CAPTAINS
Junior Sammy Walker will return to the Gophers lineup as team captain in 2020-21 while senior Brannon McManus, senior Jack LaFontaine and sophomore Ben Meyers will serve as alternate captains for the Maroon & Gold. The three newcomers to the leadership group are the 173rd, 174th and 175th players in University of Minnesota history to wear letters, dating back to the first season of play in 1921-22 when Chet Bros led the Gophers.
MINNESOTA TABBED PRESEASON BIG TEN FAVORITES
The Gophers enter the season as the favorite to win the Big Ten this year ahead of Michigan in second, Notre Dame and Ohio State tied for third, Wisconsin in fifth, Michigan State in sixth and Penn State in seventh, as selected by conference coaches. Additionally, Sammy Walker was named Preseason All-Big Ten First Team while Brannon McManus and Jackson LaCombe were named Preseason All-Big Ten Second Team. Ben Meyers received honorable mention on the list.
The Gophers lead all NCAA programs in returning goal scoring (.930, 93 of 100) and returning points (.872, 232 of 266) from last season while the team’s 93 returning goals are the second most in the nation behind Bowling Green (96). Minnesota also brings back its top six scorers from the 2019-20 season as well as nine of its 10 double-digit point producers from a year ago. Sammy Walker led Minnesota last year with a career-high 30 points while Brannon McManus is the school’s active-leading scorer with 62 career points. Scott Reedy returns after leading Minnesota with 15 goals last year as a junior– more than double the total of his first two years at the ‘U’.
BOB IS BACK AS BIG TEN COACH OF THE YEAR
Bob Motzko was named the 2020 Big Ten Coach of the Year and was a finalist for the Spencer Penrose Award (national coach of the year) in his second year leading the Gophers. The honor was Motzko’s fifth career conference coaching honor after winning the accolade in the WCHA in 2006 and 2007 and in the NCHC in 2014 and 2018. While Motzko headlined Minnesota’s postseason Big Ten honors, Ben Meyers, Jackson LaCombe and Jared Moe were all named to the Big Ten All-Freshman Team (Meyers was a finalist for Big Ten Freshman of the Year).
FRESH FACES IN THE LINEUP
Minnesota will welcome four in-state products to the roster for the 2020-21 season in Brock Faber (Defense, Maple Grove, Minn.), Carl Fish (Defense, St. Paul, Minn.), Mike Koster (Defense, Chaska, Minn.) and Mason Nevers (Forward, Edina, Minn.). Faber was selected by the Los Angeles Kings in the second round of the 2020 NHL Entry Draft (45th overall) while Koster was picked by the Toronto Maple Leafs in the fifth round of the 2019 NHL Entry Draft (146th overall).
MARTIN JOINS ‘U’ COACHING STAFF
All-American alum and 14-year NHL veteran Paul Martin will serve as an undergraduate assistant for the Gophers this year while completing his degree at the University of Minnesota. The defenseman, who helped the Maroon & Gold to back-to-back national championships, went on to play in over 800 NHL games with the New Jersey Devils, the Pittsburgh Penguins and the San Jose Sharks and led his teams to the Stanley Cup playoffs in each of his 14 seasons.
GOPHER HOCKEY SEASON NOTES
Fourteen members of the 2020-21 Gopher Hockey squad have been drafted by NHL teams including 2019 first round pick Ryan Johnson (31st overall to Buffalo)…the Anaheim Ducks lead all NHL teams with three prospects on the Maroon & Gold roster…senior Jack LaFontaine posted a .919 save percentage for the Gophers last year in his first season with the Maroon & Gold — the statistic ranks seventh all-time in program history…the University of Minnesota will host the 2024 NCAA Frozen Four at Xcel Energy Center — marking the ninth time the school has hosted the event and the fourth time the event was hosted at Xcel Energy Center (a Minnesota team has won the national championship every time the venue has played host)…three current Gophers (Jackson LaCombe, Ryan Johnson, Brock Faber) and signed prospect Matthew Knies are under consideration to represent the U.S. at the IIHF World Junior Championships…Todd Richards became the 11th Gopher Hockey alum to win the Stanley Cup after guiding the Tampa Bay Lightning to the 2020 title as an assistant coach. A Second Team All-American and team captain in 1988-89, Richards remains the program’s all-time leader for scoring among defensemen with 158 career points. Richards, who now serves as an assistant coach with the Nashville Predators, is the second Gopher to win the Stanley Cup as a coach after Bob Johnson (Pittsburgh in 1991 and posthumously in 1992)…Gopher Hockey alum and college hockey coaching legend Dean Blais is among the inductees for the Class of 2020 to the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame…sophomore forwards Jaxon Nelson and Ben Meyers rank among the top-10 all-time scorers in Minnesota high school hockey history. Nelson ranks fifth in state history with 290 career points while playing for Luverne High School, and Meyers ranks eighth in state history with 278 career points while playing for Delano High School. Nelson also holds the state high school record with 78 goals during the 2015-16 season…Gopher Hockey roster breakdown by home state/country: Minnesota (19), California (2), Canada (2), Michigan (1), Wisconsin (1), Finland (1), Arizona (1)…the Big Ten Conference enters its eighth season sponsoring men’s hockey in 2020-21 with Minnesota claiming more regular-season titles (four) than every other conference opponent combined (three). The Gophers won the first four league titles in Big Ten history as part of an NCAA record six-straight regular-season conference championships.
(info and photo courtesy of Gopher Sports)