Hockey season is nearly here. The Minnesota Gophers men’s team will take the new Mariucci Arena ice for the first time in an exhibition game against Bemidji State on October 8th, but practices have bee underway at Ridder Arena. The next sign that the season is right around the corner came on Monday when both the Big Ten Coaches Predictions and the Preseason USCHO.com Poll were released. Minnesota faired well in both with the Gophers being predicted by the conference coaches to win the Big Ten for the third consecutive season, and Minnesota ranked #3 in the nation in the preseason poll behind only the two teams the Gophers faced in last spring’s NCAA Frozen Four.
The Gophers were predicted to make it a regular season three-peat by the fellow Big Ten coaches. Right behind the Gophers came their most heated rival the mast two seasons and the team that has knocked off the Gophers in the Big Ten Championship game two years running, the Michigan Wolverines. In third place was Michigan State who behind head coach Adam Nightengale has put together one of the most impressive freshmen classes in the country and has added several impact transfers. The Spartans will be a much tougher foe this season. Notre Dame came in fourth place, right near the middle of the pack where they have resided regularly. Wisconsin under new head coach Mike Hastings jumps up into 5th place up two spots from their finish last season. Rounding out the predictions was Penn State in 6th place and Ohio State in 7th. Despite the low prediction of finish for the Nittany Lions and Buckeyes, they still are highly thought off nationally as you will see in a minute.
The Big Ten released two All-Big Ten Preseason Teams and an Honorable Mention team, and six Gophers were given the preseason honors. Minnesota had a pair on the first team with sophomore Jimmy Snuggerud a unanimous selection. Snuggerud will miss playing on a line with Mathew Knies and Logan Cooley, but he still is expected to be the top scorer on this Minnesota squad and one of the best in the nation after leading the Big Ten in scoring a year ago. Joining him on the First Team was sophomore defenseman Luke Mittelstadt. Asa a freshman last year he because the first Gopher freshman defenseman to have over 20 points in a season since Erik Johnson in 2006-07. The rest of the First Team is below.
to the Preseason All-Big Ten FIRST TEAM honorees! pic.twitter.com/MUZURvYZBO— Big Ten Hockey (@B1GHockey) September 25, 2023
The Gophers had three players on the second team anchored by starting goalie and 5th year senior Justen Close. Close was a Mike Richter Award Semifinalist a year ago and landed on the All-B1G Second Team as he led the conference in nearly every statistical category and held opponents to two or fewer goals in 25 outings.
Senior forward Bryce Brodzinski was named to the second team. Brodzy is the second-leading scorer back for the U after a career-best 31 points a season ago on 19 goals and 12 assists including a hat trick in the NCAA Tournament opening win over Canisius.
Also earning second team honors is senior defenseman Mike Koster. Now the most experienced man back there after the departures of Jackson La Combe, Brock Faber and Ryan Johnson, Koster was named one of two Gophers to wear a captain’s C on his jersey along with Jaxon Nelson this season. He scored a career high 29 points a season ago.
to the Preseason All-Big Ten SECOND TEAM honorees! pic.twitter.com/2wM4jHGhGl— Big Ten Hockey (@B1GHockey) September 25, 2023
Minnesota placed one player in the honorable mention category and that was sophomore defenseman Ryan Chesley. Chesley reached double digit points last year for Minnesota who was 8-0 when he was on the scoresheet. He steps into a much bigger role this season helping anchor one of Minnesota’s defensive pairs.
A shoutout to the Preseason All-Big Ten HONORABLE MENTION honorees! pic.twitter.com/WPoknhwB1p— Big Ten Hockey (@B1GHockey) September 25, 2023
The Gophers were voted into the #3 spot to start the season in the Preseason USCHO.com poll. Minnesota received ten first-place votes out of a possible 50. The two teams the Gophers faced in the Frozen Four a season ago were the only two teams ranked ahead of them to start the year with Boston University ranked #1 with 17 first place votes, and defending NCAA Champion Quinnipiac second with 22 first place votes. Denver was fourth and Michigan who collected the final first-place vote was in 5th place.
Six of the seven Big Ten teams are in the initial Top 20 in the nation. besides the Gophers and Wolverines, Michigan State came in at #9, Ohio State at #13, Penn State at #16, and Notre Dame at #20.
While we still are awaiting game times at TV for most of Minnesota’s games this season, we know after their exhibition game on October 8th at home against Bemidji State the Gophers will begin their official Run to the X with a game at the X. Minnesota opens the season with a road game against St. Thomas at the Xcel Energy Center in a double header with the Gopher and Tommie women’s teams on Friday October 13th. The women’s game begins at 4 PM with the men facing off at 7:30 from the location of the 2024 NCAA Frozen Four. Minnesota returns across the Mississippi to open the regular season at home on Saturday against the Tommies at 3M Arena at Mariucci in the first official game on the new narrower 200x89 ice sheet.
Good luck to the Gophers this season on what will hopefully be another exciting run back to the Frozen Four on friendly ice.