With the Gophers 101st season just around the corner and the 2021 schedule being released to the public, it is time to preview the season. While looking at 5 reasons why the Gophers may win it all and 3 reasons why they may not.
You could not have scripted it any better, the 100th season of Gopher Hockey was one of the best we have ever seen. Staring the year off on a ten-game win streak for the first time since 1940 was certainly one highlight of the season.
It was an impressive 100th season for your Golden Gophers, as we look ahead at the 101st season in program history, we highlight reasons why the Gophers could take that step and win it all, and reasons they may not.
Gophers may win it all
Below are my biggest reasons for the Gophers to win it all heading into this season. As I stated above, I believe these 5 things will be a huge factor in how many wins or losses the Gophers will have this season.
Leadership is a huge factor in trying to repeat a previous season and the Gophers certainly have a stable core of guys returning for the 2021-2022 season. That being said, the trio returns as Jack LaFontaine, Sammy Walker, and Ben Myers all return with letters on their chest.
Jack LaFontaine has another 2020 season
LaFontaine is coming off a record-breaking season for the Gophers. After carrying a .934 save percentage, 1.79 goals-against average, and a nation-leading 22 wins, the Carolina Hurricane’s prospect earned the Mike Richter Award as the nation’s top goaltender for the 2020-2021 season.
Motzko was asked about what it means for Jack LaFontaine to return to the Gophers for one last year, Motzko replied: “Jack is our goalie. It took him a while to become our starter, but he wound up being better than we thought was probable.”
Top Four Defenders return
The Gophers last season had one of the best defensive cores in the NCAA. Having guys like Big Ten All-Freshman Brock Faber, Second Team All-America Jackson LaCombe, and Big Ten Acidemic Players Ryan Johnson and Matt Staudacher return on the gopher blue line is a big plus.
The new kids, Matthew Knies and Tristan Broz were both selected in the 2nd round of the 2021 NHL entry draft. Knies at 57th by the Toronto Maple Leafs and Broz at 58th by the Pittsburgh Penguins.
One of the top newcomers on this Gophers team, Chaz Lucius. The native of Grant Minnesota was selected 18th overall in the 2021 NHL draft by the Winnipeg Jets. Making him the 22nd Gopher to be taken in the first round of the NHL draft in program history.
Rallying Behind Coach Motzko
On Monday, September 20th Motzko addressed the media for a Big Ten Hockey preview. Motzko was asked about a return to the rink being a “new world” for him, Motzko said: “The world that I had before no longer exists.” Coach Motzko, later on, stated: “Coming to the office and being around the players for me, with what we’re going through, any distraction you can get is good”
Coach Motzko lost his son Mack in a car accident in late July. The 20-year old was especially close to his father, making the loss extremely hard on the Motzko family. Mack will be severely missed by the hockey world and his beloved family.
There isn’t a doubt in my mind that these Gopher players will be rallying behind Motzko and will certainly try and win it all for Motzko and his son Mack. Wrapping up the zoom call Motzko said: “There might be times thus year I need my players more than they’re going to need me, especially early in the year.
Three Biggest Worries
Below are my biggest worries heading into this season. As I stated above, I believe these 3 things will be a huge factor in how many wins or losses the Gophers will have this season.
The Gophers lost a couple of power forwards Cullen Munson being one of them. Munson played 50 career games for the Gophers in 4 seasons where he produced 4 goals and 7 assists for 11 points. Munson played in 31 games during his 2020-2021 campaign, which saw him record 2 goals and 7 assists.
The Gophers lost two very important scorers, Sampo Ranta and Scott Reedy. Ranta led the gophers in goals with 19 and points with 31. When the native of Finland recorded a point the Gophers were 20-3-0.
Scott Reedy was a four-year Gopher starter who played in 132 games, recording 40 goals and 37 assists for 77 career points. The native of Minnesota led the team in power-play goals, game-winning goals, and was tied for the team lead in assists. The Gophers were 11-0-0 when he scored and 16-2-0 when he recorded a point.
The Powerhouse University Of Michigan
The University of Michigan will currently return 6 first-round NHL selections including four players from the top five selected players from the 2021 NHL Draft. Owen Power (No.1), Matt Beniers (No.2), Luke Hughes (No.4), and Kent Johnson (No.5).
The Gophers held their ground last season against the Wolverines going 4-1 with the most important Big Ten Tournament win. Most of the Wolverine players who were drafted could’ve taken the next step and play in the NHL but they all decided to come back one more year to try and win a National Championship.
Michigan will be coming into the year with high aspirations of winning it all but so will the Gophers. It will be up to Minnesota to put a halt to Michigan’s plans.
The Gophers certainly lost some big-time players but they also did a great job replacing them with young up-and-coming talents. Players that I think Gophers fans will be standing up from their seats to watch play.
All and all, it will be a fun 101st Gopher hockey season. If Motzko and the Gophers can get the same performance out of their returning D-core and reigning goaltender of the year Jack LaFontaine, they should be more than ready enough to take that next step and win the national title.