Sunday, April 20, 2008

10 new players and one departing coach

The men's hockey season is less than a month into the offseason, but there has been plenty of news that has come out from the program.

First, 10 players have signed to play for next season. They are Jake Hansen, Sam Lofquist, Nico Sacchetti, Grant Scott and Jordan Schroeder, who all signed during last week’s early signing period. In addition, Mike Dorr, Brandon Martell and Taylor Matson, who signed previously, will also join the Golden Gophers.

The other two are Aaron Ness of Roseau and Joey Miller of Wayzata, who made his decision to play with former Trojan teammate Tony Lucia Saturday.

“We have a good mix of size, speed and skill with this group,” Minnesota head coach Don Lucia said. “This will ensure that we get the numbers back up to where we need them to be on our team. These kids have had the opportunity to play in the USHL and Ann Arbor (with the U.S. under-18 junior team), which should ease their transition to college hockey.

“We also have recruited three players capable of playing center, which has been a need for us to bring in natural centers,” Lucia said.

Hansen, a 6-1, 182-pound wing from White Bear Lake, is playing with Sioux Falls of the USHL. A third-round draft choice of the Columbus Blue Jackets in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft (86th overall), he currently has six goals and five assists for 11 points while playing in all 13 games. Hansen totaled 28 goals and 43 assists for 71 points in 25 games last season at White Bear Lake High School before joining Sioux Falls for the final 15 games of the season.

Lofquist, a 6-1, 190-pound defenseman from Faribault, is in his second season with the U.S. national development team and has three goals and two assists for five points in 18 games. He scored a power play goal in the team’s 3-1 exhibition loss to Minnesota at Mariucci Arena on Oct. 27. Lofquist notched eight goals and six assists, totaling 14 points in 47 games last season. Prior to joining the U.S national program, Lofquist had 14 goals and five assists for 19 points in 2005-06 at Shattuck St. Mary’s.

Sacchetti, a 6-0, 186-pound center from Virginia, has played in 12 games with Omaha of the USHL and has three goals and three assists for six points. A second-round pick of the Dallas Stars in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft (50th overall), Sacchetti amassed 41 goals and 53 assists for 94 points in 27 games as a junior at Virginia High School last season.

Schroeder, a 5-8, 165-pound center from Prior Lake, is the leading scorer on the U.S. under-18-team with six goals and eight assists for 14 points in 18 games. He notched a hat trick with two assists, including the game-winning goal in a 6-5 overtime win over Finland at the Four Nations Cup on Nov. 10. Schroeder finished with 12 goals and 11 assists for 23 points in 31 games with the under-17 national team last season. He played the 2005-06 season at St. Thomas Academy and totaled 27 goals and 35 assists for 62 points in 31 games.

Scott, a 6-3, 205-pound defenseman/wing from Sewickley, Pa., is in his second season with the U.S. development team and has played in 10 games with a team-high 52 penalty minutes. He totaled three goals and two assists for five points in 39 games last season. Scott played at Shady Side Academy in Pittsburgh during the 2005-06 season and becomes the first player from any eastern U.S. state to join the Gophers.

Dorr, a 5-10, 180-pound wing from Roseville, was a finalist for Minnesota’s Mr. Hockey Award and the 2007 Metro Player of the Year after totaling 38 goals and 33 assists for 71 points in 27 games last season at Roseville High School. He also played with Des Moines of the USHL, compiling seven goals and nine assists for 16 points in 26 games. Dorr is on Des Moines’ injured reserve list for the 2007-08 season, but will return to the active roster in December.

Matson, a 6-0, 185-pound center from Orono, has three goals and three assists for six points in 13 games with Des Moines of the USHL this season. A sixth-round pick of the Vancouver Canucks in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft (176th overall), Matson finished with 17 goals and 19 assists for 36 points last season at Academy of Holy Angels. He also played in 10 games with Des Moines.

Martell, a 6-2, 195-pound defenseman from Elk River, had 11 goals and 22 assists for 33 points in 22 games last season at Elk River High School. He is playing this season with Tri-City of the USHL and is on the team’s injured reserve list, but will return to the lineup in December. Martell had 13 goals and 23 assists for 36 points in 30 games at Elk River in 2005-06.

Miller has spent the past season playing for Sioux City of the USHL and had 23 goals part of 49 points this year.

Ness, who was recently named Minnesota’s state high school player of the year, has signed a National Letter of Intent to play hockey at the University of Minnesota.

Ness, a 5-10, 170-pound defenseman who attended Roseau High School, totaled 28 goals and 44 assists for 72 points in 31 games this past season. During his three-year career, he compiled 44 goals and 100 assists for 144 career points in 92 games played. Ness’ teams were a combined 82-10 over the past three years and made three state tournament appearances, including a state championship in 2007.

Lucia is looking for two goaltenders for next season - one to fill Jeff Frazee's scholarship spot after he signed a pro contract with New Jersey two weeks ago. The other is a walk-on position that Brent Solei has occupied for the past four years.

The other news to come out of Gopher land is the resignation of assistant coach Mike Guentzel, who spent the past 14 years as assistant coach of the University of Minnesota men’s hockey program, will pursue other coaching opportunities.

“I’m thankful to have had the opportunity to play here four years and coach here for 14 years,” Guentzel said. “The Gopher program has been and always will be number one in my heart. I’ve had wonderful hard-working guys to work with and made a lot of friends here. That’s just something you can’t replace.”

Bob Motzko took over at St. Cloud State two seasons ago, now Guentzel. Personally, I think Guentzel might be a little jealous that John Hill might be Lucia's right hand man.

So, who will be his replacement? My guess is former Gopher Scott Bell, who has turned around the Hamline hockey program (small D3 school in St. Paul - my alma mater). He has expressed his interest in coaching at his alma mater, and said he would leave Piperland if given the chance. Bell is a great recruiter and that's what Guentzel was.

PS I'll be at the Spring Football Game Friday and I will give my report next weekend. So far, Coach Tim Brewster likes what he's seen from his defense and from quarterback Adam Weber. Biggest question mark - running back with Jay Thomas hurt.