Believe it or not but the college hockey season is rapidly approaching. The Minnesota Gophers women’s team plays their first exhibition game this weekend while the Gopher men kick off the regular season on October 1st. With the start to the season comes the preseason polls and prognostications. Both the Gopher men and Gopher women are ranked highly to start the season and have steep expectations to be in the national title hunt come March and April.
The Gopher Women’s hockey team was ranked #2 in the Preseason USCHO Poll and #3 in the Preseason USA Hockey Poll released last week. It’s a familiar trio at the top of the rankings as defending NCAA Champion Ohio State comes in at #1 in both polls with Minnesota and Wisconsin swapping the #2 and #3 spots in the rankings. Fellow WCHA opponent and NCAA runner-up a season ago Minnesota-Duluth comes in at #5 in both polls with just Northeastern representing the east at #4.
In the preseason WCHA Coaches Poll it was the Gophers who took home the first place nod as they look for back to back WCHA Regular Season titles. Minnesota earned one more point than Ohio State though both received three first place votes. Wisconsin was just one point back of the Buckeyes in third place and received to first place votes. No coach was allowed to vote for their own team in the poll.
Minnesota also earned some individual preseason honors as defending Patty Kazmaier Award winner and reigning WCHA Player of the Year Taylor Heise was named the Preseason WCHA Player of the Year. She is the fourth Gopher to earn that honor and the first since Hannah Brandt in 2015. If she plays in WCHA play at all like she did in the most recent IIHF Women’s World Championships where she was named the Tournament MVP, the Gophers could be in for a great season. Olympic returnee Grace Zumwinkle received votes for the Preseason All-WCHA team but not enough to earn a spot.
The Gopher women open exhibition play this Saturday when they host the University of Manitoba at 2 PM at Ridder Arena. Attendance is free to all.
The Minnesota Gophers men’s hockey team was ranked #2 in both preseason polls when they came out earlier this week. The Gophers are behind only defending NCAA Champ Denver in both polls. The Big Ten once again appears loaded as the Gophers sit at #2, Michigan comes in at #6, Notre Dame at #8/9, and Ohio State at #16/18.
Minnesota will get an early test in October as two of the first three series of the season will be against teams in the top 4 of the nation. After opening with a home series against Lindenwood, Minnesota faces #3 Minnesota State in a home and home series the following weekend. The Mavericks have ended the Gophers season in the NCAA Tournament the past two years. After a weekend off the Gophers return home to face #4 North Dakota in the two teams annual rivalry.
Preseason Big Ten honors are expected to be announced later this week or early next week along with at least a partial TV schedule and game times.
Look for full previews of both Gophers hockey teams in the next week or so here on TDG.