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Minnesota Golden Gophers Hockey: IceBreaker Tournament Preview

Today is the official start of the Gophers 2014 campaign, making it better than all other days. Unfortunately, the season opens at 1 PM and isn't on regular TV, but hey, it's a start.

Hannah Foslien

So hey, College Hockey Inc. didn't have the clout to get any of these games televised in a traditional "on the TV" sense.  Kind of odd, considering the stated purpose of the tournament is to provide the traditional "put the spotlight on college hockey just as the season gets underway," per their website.  The failure to get these games televised in any meaningful way is an indictment of the whole organization, who's mission statement is:

In just four years of existence, College Hockey Inc. has helped impact NCAA Division I men's college hockey through extensive marketing and informational efforts designed to raise the sport's profile and to encourage elite young players to pursue a college hockey career.

So, job number one is probably to get your tournament televised.  Job one failed.

Now, there might be some blame to go around; how Fox Sports didn't see revenue potential in  a game between the state's two traditional college hockey powers is also confounding.  I know the audience is somewhat limited for weekday afternoon contests, but the same can be said for Minnesota Twins games, and FSNorth aired plenty of those over the last four years.  Thanks Joe Mauer!

Hockey East's television agreement with NBCSports also didn't carry the clout to get even the championship game (which HE assumes will be a Notre Dame/Minnesota matchup) on real television Sunday afternoon.  Anyway, enough griping about TV.  At last we have hockey!

The lack of real television coverage does not diminish the early season importance of this tournament, at least for the three teams with legitimate post season hopes.

Gophers Hockey Must Reads

Rensselear Polytechnic Institute

Rensselear PI made an appearance at the Mariucci Classic last year during their 15-16-6 run and got rolled 6-2 by our Gophers.  The two players they will miss most from that squad are Brock Higgs and Matt Tinordi, who both graduated.  Leading scorer Ryan Haggerty chose to leave school with a year of eligibility left.  They'll look to Matt Neal, Mike Zalewski, and Jacob Laliberte for scoring.

Senior Scott Diebald started in net for RPI last year.  Don't expect that to change.  He posted respectable stats last year, 2.49 GAA and a save percentage of .916.  I would expect other goalies only in emergency/mop-up situations.

Duluth Bulldogs

The Bulldogs finished a perfect .500 last season with a record of 16-16-4.  They graduated only one major skater from that squad, senior Joe Basaraba.  Would be senior Caleb Herbert, who led the team in scoring.  The big names you need to know are Justin Crandall (now a senior captain) and Kyle Osterberg (sophomore), who will have to provide the bulk of Duluth's scoring.

The other senior from last year that made an impact for the Bulldogs was goaltender Aaron Crandall, who saw time in 31 games last year.  He posted a 2.71 GAA and a save percentage of .900, so statistically he's not a huge loss.  Junior Matt McNeely will probably get most of the time in net, but there's a legit battle for time between him and fellow junior Alex "the" Fons.

Notre Dame Fighting Irish

The Irish finished in the bottom half of Hockey East last year after only winning nine conference games.  Like most Hockey East teams, however, they breezed through their non-con schedule and finished the year with 23 wins.  They were in the Gophers NCAA regional last year, but got bounced in the first round by St. Cloud State.  Don Lucia's son Mario plays for this squad (dad's alma mater, you know), and the Don has been seen wearing Irish jerseys when he has the opportunity to go watch his son play.  Mario is a Minnesota Wild prospect who participated in their prospect camp this summer.

The Irish's two leading scorers last year were both seniors, T. J. Tynan and Bryan Rust.  Luckily for UND fans (I love that) is that the next three scorers are all coming back, Lucia, Vince Hinostroza, and Sam Herr all return for this season.

The Irish lost Steven Summerhays to graduation, and they'll miss him greatly.  He posted fantastic numbers last year, 2.04 GAA and a save percentage of .923.  They'll look to sophomore Chad Katunar to backstop their season.  Katunar played the first 30 minutes of Notre Dame's exhibition loss to Waterloo last weekend and surrendered a goal on the three shots he faced, and left the game with the lead.  Freshman Cal Peterson, who replaced him, allowed four goals on 9 shots and the Irish fell 5-4.

What's It All Mean?

The Gophers face off first against the Bulldogs.  Duluth is a talented young team, but they (like most teams) will have a hard time containing the Gophers.  Prediction: Minnesota downs Duluth 4-2.  The winner of this game plays the winner of RPI and Norte Dame on Sunday afternoon.  I don't think RPI can stand up to the more talented Irish, but some possibly shaky goaltending makes this one somwhat interesting.  Irish win 5-3 with an empty netter to seal the deal.

That creates the matchup I want to see: Minnesota and Notre Dame for the IceBreaker championship.  I think Minnesota takes the hardware, likely another 4-2 affair.

These are two important non-con games for the Gophers.  It's a long season, and a lot can happen, but snatching a neutral site and a road victory against quality opponents can pay big dividends come tournament time.  I just wish more people would be able to see the games.

Still, isn't it great that it's hockey season again???  I've been waiting since April!  Go Gophers!