Minnesota Gophers fans hoping to watch Rem Pitlick play for the Nashville Predators or to watch Jake Bischoff skate for the Vegas Golden Knights in the NHL playoffs, which started on Saturday, are out of luck.
Those two are the only former Gophers, out of 19 that went to NHL training camps in July, that did not make their respective club’s final playoff roster. That leaves a college hockey-best 17 players who once wore the slanty-sided M vying for the Stanley Cup among the 24 teams in the playoff tournament.
Granted, with playoff rosters expanded, there are former Gophers in their respective bubbles in either Toronto or Edmonton who are long shots to actually see the ice in a game. Goalie Mat Robson, for example, is on the Minnesota Wild roster, but realistically fourth on their netminding depth chart, meaning there would have to be some extraordinary circumstances in the first round series with Vancouver for Robson to face a puck fired by a Canuck.
If you are picking a playoff fantasy team and want to load up on Gophers, your best bets are the usual point-producing suspects like Winnipeg Jets forward Blake Wheeler, Colorado Avalanche defenseman Erik Johnson and even Arizona Coyotes forward Phil Kessel, who had what many considered an underachieving regular season (by his own offensive standards) but may be poised for a playoff breakout. The Coyotes, who wear a brick red that kind of looks like maroon, are Team Ski-U-Mah in these playoffs, with four Gophers on their roster for round one versus the Predators. If you want a great post-game quote, look first, last and always to Golden Knights defenseman Nate Schmidt, one of the NHL’s truly fantastic personalities.
The 17 Gophers on playoff rosters are:
-- 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
-- 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
Badgers lose a goalie, add a goalie
As August begins, and in a normal year there would be opening practices of the college hockey season just six weeks away, the on-going coronavirus pandemic has everything up in the air. There has been no word yet -- either from the Gophers athletic department or from the Big Ten -- about the fate of the 2020-21 season, or what the schedule may look like. But other conference decisions, like the Ivy League’s decree that they will not play sports until Jan. 1, 2021 at the earliest, has already cost teams like Harvard players who have decided to turn pro early rather than wait for news on the college hockey season.
Close to home, that uncertainty may have cost Wisconsin its mainstay in goal when junior-to-be Daniel Lebedeff chose to call it a college career and signed a pro contract with HPK Hameenlinna in his native Finland this week. Lebedeff had started 2/3 of the Badgers’ games as a freshman and sophomore, and was part of a three-man goalie corps along with two seniors. His departure, along with the graduation of two seniors, may sound familiar for Gophers fans, who one year ago saw two senior goalies graduate and junior Robson sign early with the Wild, leaving them with three newcomers between the pipes heading into 2019-20.
And similar to Bob Motzko’s decision to bring in an experienced goalie in transfer Jack LaFontaine a year ago, Badgers coach Tony Granato went out and found some experience for Wisconsin in goal. Robbie Beydoun, who played the previous three seasons at Michigan Tech, will join Wisconsin’s roster as a graduate transfer for the coming season, giving Granato some experience to go along with two incoming freshmen.
Beydoun, who played in the United States Hockey League for both Waterloo and Fargo prior to college hockey, played 28 games for the Huskies over three seasons, posting a 10-11-2 record, a 2.28 goals-against average and a .919 saves percentage with three shutouts.
Encouraging words from the East
Again, much is not known and everything could change. If the pandemic gets worse, the chances of a college hockey season gets worse. If an effective vaccine is developed soon, the chances of a college hockey season (maybe even with some fans in the stands) get better.
In the meantime, while there has been silence from many conferences, Hockey East -- the home of teams like Boston College, Boston University, Providence, Maine, New Hampshire, UMass and other perennial NCAA tournament contenders -- recently gave some hope of seeing players back on the ice in the coming months.
The conference, led by new commissioner Steve Metcalf, recently announced its intent to play in 2020-21, while prioritizing competition between league members. That is not quite the announcement of a conference-only schedule, as many college football conferences are planning, but it is a move in that direction.
Hockey East’s announcement said that new schedules, a new start date and specifics of regular season competition will be announced at a later date. They plan to put together multiple balanced schedule models for both the men’s and women’s leagues for the 2020-21 season, which will include added safety measures and allow for maximum scheduling flexibility.
With the eastern conferences made up of teams that are geographically much closer together than western teams, there is a natural advantage if there is a need to avoid long trips and air travel in a nod to limiting the spread of COVID-19.