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Season Preview: Minnesota

Now that school is starting in most places around the country, I've decided to start my season previews for this year's college hockey season. We'll start with my pick for first place in the WCHA; Minnesota.

Projected Depth Chart

LW Tyler Hirsch C Ryan Stoa RW Blake Wheeler
LW Ben Gordon C Mike Howe RW Kyle Okposo
LW Evan Kaufmann C Justin Bostrom RW Mike Carman
LW Jim O’Brien C Jay Barriball RW Ryan Flynn
LD Erik Johnson RD Alex Goligoski G Jeff Frazee
LD R.J. Anderson RD Mike Vannelli G Kellen Briggs
LD David Fischer RD Nate Hagemo G Brent Solei

Strengths

Duh. 14 NHL Draft pick on the roster. They’ve got the number one overall pick in last year’s draft on defense and the 7th overall pick at forward. They’re by far the most talented team in the country. Nobody is going to be able to match their depth. For the first time in a couple years, they should be very strong, and very deep on defense, especially if Nate Hagemo is able to contribute at all.

Weaknesses

Pretty much the same as last year. Will Jeff Frazee be able to win the job as the starter? If he can’t, can they win a national title with Kellen Briggs in goal? This team will also have to quiet the critics who said their lack of work ethic was what cost them in the NCAA tournament last year. For all the goal scorers this team has, they don’t have a lot of guys who specialize in setting people up. Getting Tyler Hirsch back will help tremendously in that department, but after him, there’s really no true playmakers on the team. Another disadvantage of being a young team is that Mike Vanelli and Kellen Briggs are the only senior leaders on the team.

Question Marks

Will Nate Hagemo’s shoulder be strong enough to play this year? Reports haven’t sounded promising, but no official decision has been made yet. Will Mike Howe be able to play effectively all year? Howe struggled with health issues his first two seasons, and coach Don Lucia said last spring that they need to get better about making sure Howe takes enough days off that he doesn’t wear himself out. Will Tyler Hirsch be able to return to his ’04-’05 form? There’s potential for him to have a big year if he can.

Overall

They’re the most talented team in the country. It’s going to be pretty much up to them how far they go. If they put in the work in practice and show up for every game, there’s no reason why they shouldn’t win the WCHA, and go on to a national title. This team is younger and less experienced than Don Lucia would like, but there’s a lot of talent and depth on the roster.

Key Player: Blake Wheeler- Wheeler started last season by scoring in his first two college games, but he finished the season with just 9 total goals, with just over half of them coming against lowly Alaska-Anchorage. With goal-scorers Ryan Potulny and Danny Irmen gone to the pros, Minnesota will need Wheeler to step up and score consistently against all teams, and not just the ones from Alaska.

Breakout Player: Jeff Frazee….Hopefully. Last year at this time, Frazee was expected to take over the starting goalie job for Minnesota and lead the Gophers to glory. Instead, Frazee struggled at the college level, in large part due to a lack of effort that led to him being publicly called out by coach Don Lucia. Gopher fans hope that last season was a wake-up call for Frazee that he won’t be able to rely on talent alone at this level, and that he’ll earn the starting job from Kellen Briggs with a renewed work ethic.

Bellwether: The number games Jeff Frazee starts, and more importantly, finishes, will be important, but the big key for the Gophers will be their effort. After starting the season against Maine in the Hall of Fame game, the Gophers come home for a series against Wayne State. The Gophers should beat the Warriors regardless of how they play, but the way the Gophers look could be an indication of how their season goes. Last year they opened up at home against Alaska-Fairbanks with a sloppy effort, and that seemed to set the tone for the season.

Did You Know?

Minnesota lost to Holy Cross in last year’s NCAA tournament.

The current location of Minnesota’s campus was one of the suggested locations for Hamline University, the first institution of higher education in Minnesota. Hamline’s founders, however, chose a location in Red Wing, Minnesota, believing that Red Wing would develop into a metropolis. Fifteen years later, they realized their blunder and moved the campus to its current location in St. Paul.

If You Go There:


You Have to Eat At: Blarney’s Grill and Pub. Duh.

You Have to See: Williams Arena, across the street from Mariucci. Michigan State coach Jud Heathcote once said, "That place was either designed by the town drunk or the village idiot". It’s an interesting place to go watch a game though just because the set-up is so different than any other basketball arena.