While goaltending and defense are crucial aspects of Hockey, if your team doesn't score any goals they're not going to win any games. This year's crop of Gopher forwards has the potential to be the most potent in several years - and, let's be honest, it doesn't take much to be more potent than the most shut out offense since the early 1900s. Here is a look at the Golden Gopher forwards by class, starting with the seniors:
Jay Barriball: Voted captain by his peers, Jay Barriball returns to the team as a senior in 2010-2011 to lead the Gophers on and off the ice. The redshirt senior, injured just five games into the 2009-2010 season, projects to be near the top of the Gopher leaderboard in goals and points this season. While Barriball may not be the most physically gifted Gopher, his hustle and heart are a combination not matched by many other players. A 20 goal scorer in his freshman season, Barriball has never quite matched the output he dazzled fans with in 2006-2007. However, surrounded by offensively talented players this year, there's potential for Barriball to meet and exceed his single season highs in his fifth season wearing a Gopher uniform.
Mike Hoeffel: One of the team's alternate captains, Hoeffel has the chance to live up to his overwhelming offensive potential this year. A sniper stuck in a power forward's body, Hoeffel is 6'2", 195 lbs. of goal scorer that the Gophers could definitely use. He's at his best taking a pass from a playmaker and depositing it into the back of the net. Hoeffel is also great along the boards, often taking the puck in the corner and shedding the defenders to walk out all by himself. Look for Hoeffel in front of the net during the power play and on the top line all year long.
Jacob Cepis: Cepis joined the team midway through the season last year, a transfer from Bowling Green. Despite playing in only 21 games last year Cepis was fifth on the team in scoring, posting 19 points (7 G, 12 A) and leading the team in points per game at 0.9. Cepis is listed at a very generous 5'8", 175 lbs., but plays much bigger than his diminutive frame. Cepis is always hustling, and the best part of his game is the way he pesters opposing teams. Cepis should be logging top-six minutes all season long, and expect to see his name on the score sheet often this season.
Patrick White: It's hard to believe that Pat White is already a senior, mostly because he has done much less than anyone expected of him as an incoming Freshman. White was one of the jewels in this recruiting class's crown, but he just hasn't contributed as expected to this point in his career. White has one more season to show the coaches, fans, and NHL scouts that he's capable of being what everyone thought he could become.
Jake Hansen: Another forward in the Pat White mold, high expectations were placed on Hansen when he suited up in the Maroon and Gold. A second-team USHL All-Star the year before his freshman season, Hansen racked up 31 goals and 58 points in only 60 games with Sioux Falls. The transition to the college game is a tough one, however, and over his next two years Hansen only accumulated 9 goals and 19 points in 71 games as a Gopher. The scoring touch is there, Hansen just needs to find it. If the Gophers can get some scoring from Hansen, they should be able to shake out of the low-scoring funk of the previous two years and get some goals on the board.
Nick Larson: A depth player / role player, Larson gives the Gophers some much-needed grit at forward. Larson is a big kid, and expect to see him pretty frequently on the ice as a third or fourth line skater and a penalty killer. Larson is a grinder who will outwork opponents and should give the Gophers quality minutes.
Taylor Matson: Although Matson will probably be centering the fourth line again this year, don't think of him as anything but a vital component of this team. Matson is the definition of hustle - he skates at 100% at all times when he's on the ice. Although Matson is a junior this year, he has only played in 32 games in his career. Both his freshman and sophomore seasons were cut short due to injuries. Hopefully for Matson and the Gophers, the third time will be the charm and he'll be able to provide the Maroon and Gold with his talents for the entire season this year.
Nico Sacchetti: Along with Jake Hansen and Patrick White, Nico Sacchetti's Gopher career cannot be summed up in any way other than "underachiever". A slick center, Sacchetti has the hands of a sniper and the goal-scoring knack of Stu Bickel. Despite the fact that he oozes skill and talent, Sacchetti has not shown the ability to create much offense for himself or for his linemates. Perhaps this is the year that he breaks out and posts 30 points. If not, though, Sacchetti is still a grinding center that wins plenty of faceoffs and plays acceptable defense.
Joey Miller: The definition of a depth forward, Miller only saw limited action with the University of Minnesota in his first two seasons. Miller tallied 3 points playing in just 29 games in those two years. Expect more of the same from Miller this year - with the large freshman crop, Miller will likely only be called upon for a couple games here and there. He's a fourth line player who hustles and keeps the puck out of the Gopher net.
Zach Budish: The Gophers only return one sophomore forward to the team this year, and that is Zach Budish. Budish had a great freshman campaign, logging nearly all of his minutes as the center of the first line, Budish scored 7 goals and added 10 assists, all while leading the team in faceoff winning percentage and being an absolute beast along the boards. In practice, Coach Lucia has moved Budish to the wing. While this won't allow Budish to use his faceoff skills, it will let him use his large frame more along the side boards to cycle the puck and control possession.
Nick Bjugstad: Hailing from Blaine HS, Minnesota's 2009-2010 Mr. Hockey award winner joins the team as the tallest Gopher player at 6'4". Bjugstad has good hockey bloodlines - his uncle Scott also played for the Gophers, recording 163 points in his career (18th all time). Bjugstad has big shoes to fill, and expectations are high for the Florida Panthers' first round pick. Bjugstad should be centering one of the top two lines this year, so look for him to be involved in the offense right away for the Maroon and Gold.
Erik Haula: The first foreign-born Gopher since Thomas Vanek, Erik Haula will bring a lot of skill to this Gopher team. Slated to center the first line, Haula will be relied upon early and often to provide playmaking abilities to the top line and to the power play. A native of Finland who played at Shattuck-St. Mary's high school, Haula could be a shot-in-the-arm for this team.
Nate Condon: Another offensive player, Condon racked up 51 points in 60 USHL games last season playing for the Fargo Force. Condon is a fairly big kid at 6'1", but he plays like a little guy, with good quickness and no fear. Condon could be a big boost to the third or fourth line this year, and should provide a little scoring touch from the bottom six forwards that the Gophers haven't seen for several years.
Tom Serratore: Serratore, a walk-on who is already one of the older players on the team, will be called upon this year to bring some experience and some grit to the Gophers. Serratore should feature prominently on the penalty kill this season. He is a player who is known for his "lunch pail" attitude - he is not afraid to get his nose dirty and get to work in order to make a play. If he can provide a little offensive pop to the fourth line, that would be a bonus. However, expect solid overall play on the defensive side of the puck from this newcomer.
Max Gardiner: Gardiner, a senior last year at Minnetonka High School (along with fellow freshman teammate Justin Holl), might be a little raw heading into his first collegiate-level season. He dominated the High School ranks, scoring 54 points in just 23 games for the #1 nationally ranked Minnetonka Skippers. However, Gardiner relied on his size (6'2") and skill to breeze past opposing teams in high school. College opponents will provide a stiffer challenge for Gardiner. Expect him to crack the lineup fairly infrequently this year. He's got the talent to be an elite player at this level, but he may not be ready to take on that challenge this year.
Jared Larson: Larson is something of a mystery. He played his high school hockey at Apple Valley, and continued to play in Fairbanks for the NAHL's Ice Dogs. In two seasons, Larson posted respectable points numbers for the Ice Dogs, while playing in nearly all team games. Larson is probably a depth player / reserve for this Gopher team, and will likely see very limited ice time barring injuries.
This group of forwards has a little bit of everything: size, speed, grit and experience. The biggest thing it has going for it, though, is sheer numbers. Coach Lucia has stated that there will be competition for ice time this year, and that the 12 players that work hard and are deserving will hit the ice in games. With 16 rostered forwards, that means that four players will be on the outside looking in each and every game. Hopefully that competition will work to Lucia's advantage this season, and the players will compete with each other and make the whole team better. Don't expect to see any loafing players this year (looking at you, Jordan Schroeder) - they'll probably be taking the game in from the press box if they mail in too many efforts.