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Minnesota Hockey: B1G Coaches Tab Gophers as Conference Favorites

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The Gophers also have seven players earn preseason honors

Matthew Mitchell—gophersports.com

Friday morning the Big Ten released the results of the preseason coaches poll and preseason All-Big Ten honorees for the upcoming hockey season. Most thought that the Michigan Wolverines who had four of the top five selections in the first round of the NHL Draft last June and return an additional three first round picks to this year’s team would be an obvious choice to win the conference. However, the conference coaches did not agree and it’s the Minnesota Gophers who were the prediction to win the Big Ten this season. The Wolverines were predicted to finish in second, with Wisconsin third, Notre Dame fourth, Penn State fifth, Michigan State sixth, and Ohio State in the seventh spot.

Minnesota also led the way with four of the six spots on the First Team Preseason All-Big Ten list anchored by returning Mike Richter Award Winner and Big Ten Goalie of the Year Jack LaFontaine. Joining him on the first team is defenseman Jackson LaCombe, and forwards Sammy Walker and Ben Meyer. Michigan takes the other two spots on the first team with the top two selections in the 2021 NHL Draft in defenseman Owen Power and 2020-21 Big Ten Freshman of the Year Thomas Bordeleau who both decided to return for their sophomore seasons.

The Gophers put two more players on the Second Team as the rest of their top trio of defensemen also were honored. Ryan Johnson and Brock Faber make up the defensive group on the second team and are joined by another pair of Wolverines in forwards Matty Beniers and Kent Johnson, along with Notre Dame’s Graham Slaggert and Wisconsin’s sophomore goalie Cameron Rowe.

One final Gopher, defenseman Mike Koster was named to the Honorable Mention list rounding out the seven Minnesota players honored by the conference coaches—the most of any school in the Big Ten.

It’s obvious the Big Ten coaches put emphasis on a veteran defensive led team as who they think will sit atop the standings. Michigan has the flashy offensive weapons but will face some significant questions in goal as Strauss Mann signed a professional contract in the offseason and did not return. Meanwhile Minnesota returns one of if not the top goalie in the nation in 2020-21 to a defensive group that is one of the conference’s best. All positive things for Minnesota fans.

Wisconsin still returns several weapons despite the loss of their two best players, Hobey Baker Award winner Cole Caufield and Dylan Holloway to the pros. They have sophomore Rowe who will be their #1 goalie this season who impressed at times a year ago. They also added Minnesota transfer Jared Moe to be their #2 in net. Notre Dame will try and finish in the top portion of the standings once again, but will need to build around a new goaltender as Dylan St. Cyr transferred in the offseason to Quinnipiac. They did however land one of the best goalies on the transfer market in the offseason getting Matt Galadja from Cornell. Galadja was a two-time Ivy League Player of the Year but will have a much different style of play too get used to from the Irish than from his defensive minded Cornell squad. Gopher killer and Eden Prairie native Nick Leivermann returns for his 5th season in South Bend as well.

Penn State is on the upswing once again after losing a ton of talent after the 2019-20 season. Second leading scorer Kevin Wall returns but Alex Limoges and Tim Dougherty have both moved on for the Nittany Lions who will need to find new offensive talent in Guy Gadowski’s uptempo style.

Michigan State still has some individual talent, but the depth still isn’t there. Goalie Drew Deridder returns, but the consistency will need to get better from the preseason honorable mention goalkeeper. DeRidder would look amazing one night, and then a sieve the next. The Spartans still have offensive scoring power in Mitch Lewandowski who can put the puck in the net at any time. Finally Ohio State brings up the rear in a rebuilding year for Steve Rohlik and his squad. Stud goalie Tommy Nappier is gone and the Buckeyes will need to figure things out behind last year’s #3 in Ryan Snowden and a pair of incoming freshman net minders. Add that on top of a team that struggled to score two goals a game a year ago and it could be a long season for the Buckeyes.

Gametimes for First Four Weeks Announced:

We will get our first look at this year’s Gophers squad when they open the season next weekend at home against the Alaska Nanooks in what is set for a fun football/hockey doubleheader weekend. Gametimes for the first four weekends of play for Minnesota were announced by the U on Thursday. Minnesota will open the season with a Saturday matinee against Alaska with face-off coming at 2:30 PM from 3M Arena at Mariucci. The Gopher football team plays at Purdue at 11AM on Saturday. Then Sunday the Gophers and Nanooks will face off at 4PM after the Vikings game which kicks off at Noon.

Mercyhurst will come to Minneapolis the follow weekend and the schedule returns to a normal Friday/Saturday timeframe. The Gophers and Lakers will faceoff at 7PM Friday night before a 5PM start on Saturday.

The following two weekends are filled with home and home series against in-state NCHC rivals. Friday October 15th has the Gophers hosting 2021 Frozen Four participant St. Cloud State at 7PM before heading up I-94 to St. Cloud for Saturday’s game at the National Hockey Center at 5PM. The following weekend Minnesota-Duluth heads down I-35 with Friday’s game beginning at 7PM from Minneapolis, and the teams head north to play again Saturday at Amsoil Arena with a 7 PM faceoff.

No TV information has been announced for the season as of yet, but with the awkward start times for next weekend’s games, its expected that TV is the reason for that and will be getting announced shortly. The rest of the start times for the remainder of the Gophers season are also expected to be announced relatively soon with the full TV broadcast schedule.

Gophers Land Top recruit:

On Friday Edina native Jimmy Clark announced his commitment to the Gophers. he is one of the top players in the country of the 2023 class and will step into an already very well established Edina to Minnesota pipeline.

A skilled forward, Clark recorded 26 points in 20 regular season games a season ago as a sophomore for Edina. He also played ten games with the US U17 National Team. He scored a goal and added an assist in four games at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup over the summer for the US U-18 team. He is slated to begin play this season with Sioux City of the USHL before returning back to Edina for his junior season.

Come back next week as we will have a full look ahead at the 2021-22 Gopher squad as well as the Gopher women’s team here on TDG.