The last time Minnesota hosted the Ice Breaker Tournament was in 2007 following a season where the Gophers the NCAA Tournament as a top seed yet failed to make the Frozen Four. The last time Minnesota played Mercyhurst was in 2003 to open the NCAA Tournament. That run, which included coaches Don Lucia, Mike Guentzel and Grant Potulny playing on the ice, ended with a second straight national championship in Buffalo over another Ice Breaker team in New Hampshire.
This time is different even if the names and places may sound the same
The Ice Breaker, a season-opening college hockey tournament sponsored by College Hockey, Inc., kicks off today and tomorrow (October 11-12) at Mariucci Arena. Four teams - #5 Minnesota, Mercyhurst, Clarkson and #12 New Hampshire - from four conferences meet in Minneapolis for early season bragging rights.
New Hampshire (Hockey East) and Clarkson (ECAC) face off at 4:00 p.m. CT while Minnesota (Big Ten) and Mercyhurst (Atlantic Hockey) cap off Friday at 7:00 p.m. CT. On Saturday, the two winners play for the Ice Breaker title at 7:00 p.m. with the losers preceding the game at 4:00 p.m.
Enough has been written about Minnesota's preseason outlook so here's the quick and dirty version. The Gophers lost five juniors, including four of its five top scorers from the nation's top offense, early to the pros last season. Those five combined for 162 points. Minnesota hopes to rely on its sophomore goaltender Adam Wilcox defensively and a plethora of freshmen to replace some, if not most, of the lost scoring.
Mercyhurst, meanwhile, enters the season picked to finish second in Atlantic Hockey after returning three 35+ point scorers and 18 upperclassmen. Atlantic Hockey is currently on a high following last season. The conference sent two teams (Niagara and Canisius) to the NCAA Tournament for the first time ever. Despite that, the Lakers lost 4-3 to the University of Guelph (Ontario) in its lone exhibition game.
In the opening game, Clarkson enters the Ice Breaker tournament having played two games. The Golden Knights, picked to finish 12th out of 12 teams by ECAC coaches and media, swept Niagara on the road with 2-1 and 2-0 wins. Besides returning its top eight scorers, goalies Jackson Teichroeb and Steve Perry combined for 69 saves on 70 shots last weekend.
On the other side is New Hampshire. The Wildcats went further than any of the four teams in the Ice Breaker last season, defeating Denver in the first round of the NCAA Tournament before losing to fellow Hockey East school UMass-Lowell. UNH returns several key players from last year's team. That includes Trevor van Reimsdyk on the blue line and senior Kevin Guomas and junior Grayson Downing up front. The two upperclassmen are linemates, with Wildcats head coach Dick Umile giving freshman Tyler Kellehar a shot with Guomas and Downing.
Of these four teams, one will be able to claim the 2013-14 Ice Breaker title.
And the last time Minnesota opened the Ice Breaker? The Gophers came back from three goals down in the third period against RPI.
Minnesota vs. Mercyhurst will be broadcast on Fox Sports North. Minnesota's game on Saturday (Time TBD) will be broadcast on Fox Sports North Plus.
Follow SB Nation College Hockey on Twitter -- Follow @sbncollegepuck
Nathan Wells is a college hockey columnist for SB Nation and College Hockey News. You can also follow him on Twitter -- Follow @gopherstate