The Gophers' first game comes up this Sunday, October 4th, against the University of British Columbia Thunderbirds. The Gophers played the T-Birds in an exhibition to open the 08-09 season as well, winning that game 3-1.
This game is just an exhibition, and it will be a good chance for Coach Lucia to get a look at a lot of players before setting the starting lineups. Of course, we all remember how last year turned out, so don't think that the Gophers will be slacking in this game. I'm sure Coach Lucia and the newly-minted Coach Potulny have been getting on all the players about giving 60 minutes of hard effort each and every night. With more players on this year's roster than any other Gopher team in recent memory, roster spots will be at a premium and playing time will be something to be won by effort in practice and in games. This exhibition should be a good chance for the whole team to prove themselves and fight for some valuable ice time.
I would expect the Gophers to come out firing in this game, and although they most likely will not be as sharp as they would be several months into the season, I see the Gophers playing with something to prove, having missed the NCAA tournament after an all-around disappointing year last season.
It will be interesting to see how the freshmen adjust to their first time stepping onto the ice wearing the "M". I'm looking forward to Nick Leddy leading some coast-to-coast rushes out of the defensive zone, Zach Budish jostling for position in front of the net like a certain Mr. Potulny did in four illustrious seasons in the Maroon and Gold, and Seth Helgeson restoring a hard-nosed defensive posture to the D-corps.
I'm also looking forward to seeing how much Kent Patterson improved over the offseason. Not that I think he will challenge Alex Kangas for the starting job, but having two goalies that you can count on throughout the season just in case something were to happen is a huge component in any championship-caliber team. Patterson appeared a little shaky at times but pretty solid as a whole during his appearances between the pipes last season. We'll see if the experience he gained playing on some pretty big stages last season has helped his development.
More next time as I profile a couple players I'm looking to take it to the next level this year!