MINNEAPOLIS — The odds of fans seeing former Minnesota Gophers on the ice when the NHL resumes play next week are better than ever, based on the list of former collegians attending the training camps for the 24 teams that have qualified for the league’s revamped summer playoffs.
Of those 24 teams, more than half of them have at least one Gopher in camp, with a college hockey-best 19 U of M alumni vying for a roster spot. That number includes two players — goalie Mat Robson and forward Kyle Rau — in camp with the Minnesota Wild at TRIA Rink in downtown St. Paul.
The Arizona Coyotes have a quartet of ex-Gophers (forwards Phil Kessel and Hudson Fasching, and defensemen Alex Goligoski and Aaron Ness) in their camp, being held in Glendale, Ariz., where temperatures have been hitting 110 degrees or higher this week.
The 19 Gophers are the most of any college hockey program, with Boston University (18) and Boston College (17) finishing in the silver and bronze positions. Among the region’s other college hockey teams, North Dakota has 16 NHL campers, Wisconsin 13, Minnesota Duluth 11, St. Cloud State 6, Minnesota State-Mankato 4 and Bemidji State 2.
“All of us are excited to follow the players from our programs, our state and college hockey. We love seeing that, and we root for that,” said Gophers coach Bob Motzko. “Now, even more important, is I think we’re all just excited to see hockey. We’re ready to watch something and cheer for something.”
The former Gophers in NHL training camps are:
Jake Bischoff — Vegas Golden Knights
Travis Boyd — Washington Capitals
Hudson Fasching — Arizona Coyotes
Alex Goligoski — Arizona Coyotes
Erik Haula — Florida Panthers
Justin Holl — Toronto Maple Leafs
Erik Johnson — Colorado Avalanche
Phil Kessel — Arizona Coyotes
Nick Leddy — New York Islanders
Vinni Lettieri — New York Rangers
Ryan Lindgren — New York Rangers
Aaron Ness — Arizona Coyotes
Rem Pitlick — Nashville Predators
Kyle Rau — Minnesota Wild
Mat Robson — Minnesota Wild
Nate Schmidt — Vegas Golden Knights
Nick Seeler — Chicago Blackhawks
Brady Skjei — Carolina Hurricanes
Blake Wheeler — Winnipeg Jets
Gopher women’s team names captains
Whenever the Gopher women’s hockey team returns to the ice, coach Brad Frost will call on a quartet of seniors to provide leadership on the bench and in the locker room. Emily Brown, Olivia Knowles, Taylor Wente and Grace Zumwinkle have been named the team’s captains for the 2020-21 season.
“Emily, Grace, Olivia, and Taylor exemplify what it means to be Gophers,” Frost said, in a statement released by the school. “They each bring something unique to our team, and we are ecstatic that they have been voted as captains. We have high standards for our captains, and we have no doubt that they will lead our team well. Each of them, along with our leadership group, will forge a path for our team this season.”
It will be a familiar role for Brown, a defender from Blaine, who was an assistant captain last season. Zumwinkle, Knowles and Wente all have a letter on their jerseys for the first time as collegians.
The Gophers return 15 players from last season's 27-6-3 team, which qualified for the NCAA tournament before the season ended abruptly because of COVID-19 public health concerns.
No IceBreaker for Gophers, this season or next
The announcement this week that the 2020 IceBreaker tournament has been postponed for a year due to the impact of the pandemic means the Gophers are out, this year and next year. They were scheduled to face Minnesota Duluth at Amsoil Arena on Oct. 9, then face either Minnesota State University-Mankato or Providence the next night. Due to a conflict with games already scheduled for the fall of 2021, the Gophers will be unable to participate in the rescheduled tournament.
The Gophers’ coach said there is disappointment, but the changes are part of the new normal as college hockey works toward finding some kind of viable schedule for this season.
“Right now there are so many unanswered questions and so much uncertainty,” Motzko said. “What we’re all focused on finding a path forward right now. If something is cancelled or moved around, we totally understand it, because the focus and the concentration is on trying to find a path forward.”