October 22, 2007

Gopher Hockey Preview

I know nothing about hockey so I recruited a friend and gopher hockey expert really big fan to give us the low down. Considering I could maybe name 5 gophers (all time, certainly not current), he is much more qualified than I am. Please welcome Wayne as he gives us the official Gopher Nation - Gopher Hockey preview (4 games into the season)...

For Hockey news and analysis on a regular basis I suggest you check out GopherPuck

Key losses - We lost 2 seniors leaders from the 06-07 season. Star goalie Kellen Briggs and defensemen Mike Vannelli. There were also a couple players that decided to forego their college careers and move on to bigger things. Jim O'Brien (would've been a sophomore this year) decided to bail out over the past summer to play with the Western Hockey League powerhouse Seattle Thunderbirds. Superstar Alex Goligoski (would've been a senior this year) also decided to leave and play for the Pittsburgh Penguins. Tyler Hirsch also left "voluntarily" due to some sketchy reasons. Some say it was related to mental issues. I think it can all be traced back to "girl problems"--it's the only possible explanation.

Key additions - The Gophers picked up a well rounded crew for the 06-07 season. Five players come from the USHL and two from the National Development Team. All seven are originally from Minnesota. Interestingly, the entire team is once again built from Minnesotans. I don't believe this is on purpose as it was in the Doug Woog days--Lucia has no qualms about recruiting talent from anywhere. From what little I've seen of the freshman class this year, I'm impressed. I'll be keeping an eye on forward Patrick White. He scored a sweet even strength goal in the third period against Michigan in the Ice Breaker tourney and appears to be a great fit with the Gopher hockey program. It looks like he's been playing with the team for several seasons. The same can be said for Stu Bickel, Drew Fisher, and Mike Hoeffel. They have good synergy out there. It's very encouraging to see. (yes, I said synergy...)

Forwards - We have a good mix of size and strength with our forwards this year. On one end of the spectrum, you have gargantuan juniors Ryan Stoa at 6-3/217,Blake Wheeler at 6-4/215, and Ryan Flynn at 6-3/210. On the other end, you have speedsters Jay Barriball at a svelte 5-9/156 and Evan Kaufmann at 5-9/167. Watch for those guys on odd man breaks. If they get a step, they'll be gone (and probably drawing a tripping or hooking penalty during the sprint for the net). Unfortunately, one of our biggest players, Stoa, is out for the season with a knee injury sustained in the second game of the season. We'll miss his size in front of the net. Blake Wheeler continues to get better as the years go on. He's a natural out there. He often looks to set up the perfect play, but, if that's not an option, he's perfectly capable of turning it into a one man show. He's a walking highlight reel.

Defensemen - We have some size and experience on defense this year. Senior Derek Peltier and junior R.J. Anderson have seen solid so far this season. We also have some fresh faces out there. Stu Bickel has the makings of a hockey great--not to mention a sweet hockey name. We have a couple more freshman who will be tested this year. Both Cade Fairchild and Kevin Wehrs are a little small so I hope they can stay with the odd man rushes and breakaways. From what I've seen so far, the Gophers have given up several so far and Frazee has had to pull off some magic as a result. I also worry that they will not be able to clear the riff-raff from in from of the net in order to give Frazee a good look at the play. It's early though...

Goalie - I've been very impressed with Jeff Frazee so far this season. He seems a lot quicker in the net and is following the play with sixth sense abilities. Maybe Robb Stauber has actually adopted him. He's improved in every aspect of his game from last year with the exception of wanting to trade in his stick and play defense. The guy has to learn to stay in the crease. He's out in the corner or behind the net more than he's in the crease it seems. He's had a few close calls, but Adam Hauser started off the same way as well and look how he ended his college career. We have 2 back-up goalies, but I'm afraid to say that I haven't paid much attention during practice to get a feel for their abilities. Brent Solie is a senior, but I swear I haven't seen that little dude out there at all. The other option is the freshman Alex Kangas. Again, no input from this guy--too new to glean anything.

Why will the Gophers win the WCHA? - The Gophers have a very good chance to take the Broadmoor Trophy (the WCHA playoff champions) as well as the McNaughton Cup (the WCHA regular season champions) this season. The talent is there as well as the leadership. However, there's seems to be a recurring theme--start slow on Friday and come out flying on Saturday. The Gophers seem to need some time to ramp up. This goes for the season as well. It could take a couple months for everyone to get on the same page. Once they do, watch out. They aren't afraid of a challenge and seem to feed off the energy of competition. The harder an opponent plays, the harder the Gophers play. Conversely, they play down to "lesser" teams. Only when times get tough will they turn it up a notch and pull out the stops.

Will then win the Frozen Four? - It's way too early to predict a NCAA championship, but as I mentioned above, there's a chance. The team looks pretty sharp so far and we have the leadership to take us through the tough times and not get presumptuous when they're on a roll.

Who is better Doug Woog or Don Lucia? - Based on NCAA championship history--Lucia. Based on partying ability--Woog. Based on hairstyle--too close to call.

Which is heavier a zamboni or a Wisconsin cheerleader? - Depends on if we're talking about propane-powered or electric...

What makes for a better hockey player a sweet mullet or missing teeth? - A sweet mullet (must have hair long enough to be seen while wearing a regulation helmet) will trump missing teeth. Missing teeth may only mean the player has been in a lot of fights or doesn't play with a full cage on his helmet.

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