Preseason Top 16: #13 Minnesota


It’s that time of year again. Each day (or so) for the next couple weeks TCHB will be unveiling its preseason top 16 teams in the country. 16 of course because 16 teams make up the NCAA tournament field. Today’s team is the #13 Minnesota Golden Gophers

The Gophers have missed the last three NCAA tournaments, and each year they have done so with arguably one of the 5 or so most talented teams in the country. This year’s team figures to have less talent, but a better shot at the NCAA tournament. Why? Well, for one I think the talent level in college hockey will be down a bit as a whole this year. But I think Minnesota retains some key pieces from last year, and gets rid of some players they can afford to lose.

Forwards: He was one of the most hated players in college hockey, but there is no doubt the Gophers will miss Jacob Cepis. He drew a lot of penalties both by agitating opponents and by doing a very good Greg Lougainis impression, but he also was a very good two way player, defending well and leading the team with 29 points and tying for second in goals with 12. In all, Minnesota loses its three leading scorers: Cepis, Mike Hoeffel (13 goals) and Jay Barribal (12). But they welcome back Jake Hansen and Taylor Matson, who each were in double digits, as well as a pair of supremely talented Sophomores in Nick Bjugstad and Erik Haula, who was possibly Finland’s best forward at the WJC last year. Another big returner is Zach Budish, who missed much of the season last year due to an ATV accident. As is normally the case in the Twin Cities, Minnesota has a number of heralded recruits coming, including Seth Ambroz and Kyle Rau, who played on the gold medal winning US Under 18 team. Whoops. Ivan Hlinka, U-18 World Championships, tomato tomato.

Defensemen: The Gophers lose their top three defensemen in Kevin Wehrs, Aaron Ness and Cade Fairchild. Wehrs was a dependable player, but I don’t think it’s much of a stretch to suggest he is replaceable. Ness and Fairchild, however, are the addition by subtraction players. Each regressed, or at the very least didn’t improve, in their time at Minnesota, and they were two big reasons why John Hill was fired. The Gophers don’t have as many talented dman recruits, probably a commentary on the lack of stars produced by the school recently. They have some improving to do defensively, as they allowed 2.79 goals per WCHA contest this year, which was tied for 6th, and were an abysmal 77.4% on the penalty kill, good for 10th.

Goaltending: The big strength of this team is in net, where Kent Patterson had a .926 save percentage in league play last year, which led the conference. If he was that good with a shaky defense (and a horrible penalty kill) in front of him he should be even better with a good defense. He’ll likely regress from his .926 mark, but will still be one of the best, if not the best, goalie in the WCHA.