September 7, 2007 PRINT Bookmark and Share


by Tim Rosenthal/Staff Writer

Head Coach: Don Lucia
2006-2007 Record: 31-10-3 (18-7-3 WCHA)
Key Returnees: Ben Gordon F SR., Mike Howe F SR., Tom Pohl F SR., Derek Peltier D SR., Jeff Frazee G JR., Ryan Stoa F JR., Blake Wheeler F JR., Kyle Okposo F SO., Jay Barriball F SO., Jim O'Brien F SO.
Key Losses: Alex Goligoski (underclassmen), Erik Johnson (underclassmen), Mike Vannelli, Kellen Briggs

Minnesota had one of the best first halves of last season. Through Jan. 12 its record was 19-1-3. The only loss during that stretch was opening night against Maine. The Gophers' next loss was not until that Friday night, Jan. 12, when they lost at Wisconsin.

Although the team was only 11-9 in its last 20 games, it still took home the WCHA regular season, and captured the Final Five crown against North Dakota (which it later lost to in the NCAA West Regional Finals) in one of the most thrilling finishes in Final Five history.

Although the team did not make the Frozen Four, head coach Don Lucia was very happy with his club.

"We had a great year," he said. "We won the WCHA regular season, won the Final Five and in the process we won 30 games. The only thing that was missing was a trip to the Frozen Four."

With 2006-07 behind us, the Gophers will look to rebound in 2007-08, where they will once again be a favorites to finish near the top of the conference.

If they are to win anything this season, though, it will probably be a slower climb. The defense was decimated by the loss of Erik Johnson and Alex Goligoski to the pros. And Jimmy O'Brien, a first-round NHL pick who was expected to move from forward to defense to fill the void, decided late in the summer to leave as well.

This will put the onus on Jeff Frazee, who needs to finally emerge as a No. 1 goaltender with Kellen Briggs now out of the picture.

"Right now he is our guy in net," said Lucia about Frazee. "He has proved himself in the past."

Lucia also noted that incoming freshman Alex Kangas could also get an opportunity.

"Alex is another good possibility," Lucia said. "He has played in the USHL the last two years and he proved himself in that level."

As for Kangas and the rest of the recruiting class, Lucia has a lot of positive thoughts about the class of 2011.

"We got a mix of needs and experience," Lucia said about his six-member class. "We got two solid defensemen in Cade Fairchild, and Kevin Wehrs and a good mix of forwards such as Patrick White and Drew Fisher."

The question mark on this team remains the young defense.

"The young defense will have to step up and contribute this year in order to be successful," Lucia said. With only one senior defensemen on the roster, the leadership might not be there, but the talent is. Sophomores David Fischer and Brian Schack will improve and see more ice time.

"The WCHA will be good again," said Lucia. "North Dakota is the front-runner right now while teams like Denver and Colorado College should improve."

As far as the Gophers go, Lucia said, "We have a very difficult league schedule. We have North Dakota, Wisconsin, and Denver four times.

"We will do everything to defend our conference crown."

Of note, for the first time since 2000, the Gophers will be playing with an all-Minnesota-born lineup. That's more by coincidence than design these days, since Lucia has shunned the self-mandated all-Minnesota approach, and to great effect, considering the team won two national titles (2002 and 2003).

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