NHL realignment has fans excited about rekindling old rivalries, but they’re also thrilled about the team’s potential this season. After adding Zach Parise and Ryan Suter to the roster last summer, the Wild was expected to be a playoff team for the first time in five years. It happened. An opening series loss to eventual Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks was disappointing, but Minnesota showed significant signs that it could go nose-to-nose and stick-to-stick with the best team in the NHL last winter. They return much of that core this year.
Wild leading scorer Parise and his center Mikko Koivu are both back on offense, combining for 75 points last year, while on the blue line Suter had the best all-around season of his professional career and stood out as one of the best defensemen in the NHL, averaging 30 minutes per game on the ice. Joining Suter is Jonas Brodin, arguably the top rookie in the league last year. Jared Spurgeon and the addition of Baudette native Keith Ballard will help anchor the back end.
Goalie Nicklas Backstrom returns in full health after being injured in the postseason as does back-up Josh Harding who dramatically stepped up his play in goal during the playoff series.
What ultimately may define the team in 2013-14 will be depth. The play of burgeoning prospects Mikael Granlund, Jason Zucker and Charlie Coyle as well as that of 20-year-old newcomer Nino Niederreiter is viewed as crucial to the Wild’s success and a deeper run into the postseason.
It will be a year of meshing new and old players for the Gopher men’s team this year. Many of the big names who helped the Gophers pace the WCHA last season are gone, but stepping in are several talented freshmen who developed through Minnesota Hockey’s community-based associations:
Michael Brodzinski, Blaine Youth Hockey Association.
Big shot from the point and keen offensive sense.
Hudson Fasching, Apple Valley Hockey Association. Stands at 6-foot-2 and is considered a consummate power forward.
Justin Kloos, Lakeville Hockey Association. Mr. Hockey in 2012, Kloos possesses high-end skill, vision and
Jake Bischoff, Grand Rapids Amateur Hockey Association. Big, steady defenseman with puck-moving ability.
Add to this a couple of familiar, proven forwards in senior Nate Condon and junior Kyle Rau (Eden Prairie Youth Hockey Association), and the Gophers’ offensive punch looks impressive.
It will be hard to duplicate a more exciting season than the one the Huskies put together with last year’s Frozen Four appearance, but the championship fire still burns as they prepare for the season with 11 Minnesota natives on the roster in the new National Collegiate Hockey Conference.
Back for the 2013-14 run are forwards Nic Dowd, a junior who collected 38 points last season, and sophomores Jonny Brodzinski (Blaine Youth Hockey Association) and Kalle Kossila, both amassing 33 points during their freshman campaigns. Junior goalie Ryan Faragher was one of the best puck-stoppers last season in the WCHA. Look for sophomore forward Joey Benik (St. Francis Youth Hockey Association) and junior defenseman Andrew Prochno (Minnetonka Youth Hockey Association) to punch up solid offensive numbers.
Nine Minnesotans will take the ice for Bemidji State. Incoming freshman D.J. Jones, a Plymouth native, joins Russian Peden and Carter Struthers to reload the blue line. Junior goalie Andrew Walsh registered a 2.65 goals-against average and .916 save percentage last winter.
Junior Danny Mattson, former Holy Angels standout, is the top returning scorer at forward this season for the Beavers with 19 points. St. Paul native and Cretin-Derham Hall grad Bob Kinne, a freshman, will try to follow in the footsteps of his older brother, Ben Kinne, last year’s team captain.
The Bulldogs will make their NCHC debut returning sophomore standout forwards Tony Cameranesi (Wayzata Youth Hockey Association) and Austin Farley, who both finished with 34 points in 2012-13. Dom Toninato (Duluth Amateur Hockey Association) leads a strong recruiting class, which also includes Kyle Osterberg (Lakeville Hockey Association), Dan Molenaar (Eden Prairie Youth Hockey Association), Willie Raskob, Sammy Spurrell, Alex Iafallo and Minnesota Wild draft pick Carson Soucy. Look for sophomore Duluth native Andy Welinski to have a big year.
Could the Mavericks claim the new-look WCHA? Minnesota State will enter the season with a proven goalie in Stephon Williams and newcomer Zach Stepan, a Hastings native. Stepan finished third in the USHL in scoring with 78 points in 56 games for Waterloo.
Junior forward Max Gaede (Woodbury Area Hockey Association) and sophomore forward Teddy Blueger also return. Junior defenseman Zach Palmquist (South St. Paul Youth Hockey Association) will be looked upon heavily. Senior Zach Lehrke (Park Rapids Youth Hockey) potted 25 points last season.
It’s worth repeating again and again: The Gopher women’s hockey team has won 49 consecutive games and back-to-back NCAA national championships.
One hang-up? It’s an Olympic year, and reigning Patty Kazmaier Award winner Amanda Kessel along with Lee Stecklein (Roseville Area Youth Hockey Association) were named to the U.S. National Team. Both players are expected to be with Team USA in February and won’t return to the program until 2014-15.
But the outlook has hardly darkened. It could still be another stellar year for the Gophers this winter. The team has plenty of talent led by sophomore Hannah Brandt (Roseville Area Youth Hockey Association) and Rachael Bona (Coon Rapids Youth Hockey Association), who respectively collected 82 and 32 points last season. Junior Rachel Ramsey (Minnetonka Youth Hockey Association) returns at defense and six Minnesota-born freshmen will join the two-time defending champs this year.