MINNEAPOLIS — If and when the Minnesota Gophers hit the ice for the 2020-21 season, they will have three new defenseman, and a new forward, as part of their freshman class. On Thursday, the team officially added forward Mason Nevers and defenseman Carl Fish to the fold, after announcing a pair of defensemen had signed last November.

“We are thrilled to bolster our lineup for this season with two experienced skaters in Mason Nevers and Carl Fish — two Minnesota kids who are ecstatic to be playing hockey at the University of Minnesota,” Gophers coach Bob Motzko said, in a statement released by the school. “Both players had tremendous high school careers and have continued to develop in junior hockey. We are excited about bringing in two more promising young men, and we think fans are going to like the impact they have on our program as well.”

Nevers, from Edina, Minn., spent last season in juniors with the United States Hockey League's Des Moines Buccaneers and put up 40 points in a 47-game season that was cut short due to the pandemic. He was Edina’s captain in 2019 when the Hornets won their most recent state high school title and will be reunited with former teammates Sammy Walker and Ben Brinkman on the Gophers roster.

Nevers will be a second-generation Gophers hockey player, but just barely. His father Tom, who was a hockey and baseball star at Edina in the late 1980s, was all set to join Doug Woog’s budding dynasty, until he heard the siren’s song of MLB opportunity.

The elder Nevers was a 1990 first-round draft pick of the Houston Astros, and spent more than 1,300 games in the minor leagues over the next dozen years. He did return to the Gopher hockey program and played one game versus Denver during the 1996-97 season.

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"It's a very, very fantastic feeling, and one that's a little surreal, to have a child fulfilling a dream of becoming a Gopher," said the elder Nevers, who is Edina's head baseball coach.. "It's a very proud moment for my wife and I. Nothing but excited to spend some time out there on Friday and Saturday nights."

Defenseman Carl Fish was a two-year captain at St. Paul Johnson, then spent two seasons with the NAHL's Bismarck Bobcats before signing a letter of intent with the Minnesota Gophers. University of Minnesota Athletics photo.
Defenseman Carl Fish was a two-year captain at St. Paul Johnson, then spent two seasons with the NAHL's Bismarck Bobcats before signing a letter of intent with the Minnesota Gophers. University of Minnesota Athletics photo.

Fish, who prepped at St. Paul Johnson, has been in juniors with the Bismarck Bobcats of the North American Hockey League for the past two years. He was the team’s top scoring defenseman last season, with five goals and 19 assists in 39 games. In high school he was the Governors’ captain as a junior and senior, and was named the top player in the East Metro by the St. Paul Pioneer Press in 2018. In a June 1 edition of The Rink Live podcast, Motzko said he intended to add Fish to the roster for the coming season.

The Gophers had previously announced the addition of blueliners Brock Faber (from Maple Grove, Minn.) and Mike Koster (from Charska, Minn.) to the roster for the coming season. Motzko lost two defensemen, Tyler Nanne and Ryan Zuhlsdorf, and forward Joey Marooney to graduation from last season's roster. Forward Garrett Wait, who was to be a junior, is transferring to UMass.

Minnesota Wild goaltender Devan Dubnyk (40) in action during the game between the Wild and the Stars at the American Airlines Center in Dallas on Feb. 7, 2020. Jerome Miron / USA TODAY Sports
Minnesota Wild goaltender Devan Dubnyk (40) in action during the game between the Wild and the Stars at the American Airlines Center in Dallas on Feb. 7, 2020. Jerome Miron / USA TODAY Sports

Dubnyk still stepping up for United Heroes League

While his future in Minnesota may be a question mark, with talk of an off-season buyout swirling, Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk’s support for United Heroes League and their mission to help the kids of military personnel play sports is unwavering.

Formerly known as Defending the Blue Line, UHL was started by Shane Hudella of Hastings, Minn., as a way to help provide money and equipment to help the children of deployed members of the military play youth sports. To date they have raised more than $12 million for those efforts. This week UHL held its annual golf outing, known as the Camo Classic, in Prior Lake, Minn., with more than 50 active members of the armed forces on hand to cater to the dozens of foursomes and corporate partners during a hot, humid day on the course.

“Meeting the people involved with this and getting to know the service members is incredible,” said Dubnyk. “Understanding what they do, for us and for our country, is pretty amazing...I come out here and they’re asking for pictures with me and I’m like, ‘I’d like a picture with you.’ It’s such an awesome organization.”

With the temperature hovering near triple digits and the humidity high, it was odd to see soldiers in camo long sleeves and pants helping set up and take down the signage, while thanking people like retired Minnesota Twins, retired Minnesota Vikings and a host of retired hockey players who played in the event. Hudella said the weather was not a concern for the military folks who have served in places like the Middle East in the past.

“These men and women go to places much hotter than Prior Lake, Minnesota, on a pretty regular basis,” Hudella said. “There might be a little more humidity than the desert, but they’re well-trained and know how to hydrate, and they have fun meeting our partners and the pro athletes here.”

Gophers senior defenseman Ryan Zuhlsdorf. University of Minnesota Athletics
Gophers senior defenseman Ryan Zuhlsdorf. University of Minnesota Athletics

Zuhlsdorf set to sign with ECHL team

With another Minnesota winter coming all too soon, former Gophers defenseman Ryan Zuhlsdorf is set to become the minor league hockey version of a snowbird.

Zuhlsdorf, who was drafted by the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2015 and went to the team's development camp five times, officially became a free agent on Aug. 15 and is expected to sign a contract with the Greenville (S.C.) Swamp Rabbits of the ECHL in the coming days. In April, Zuhlsdorf told The Rink Live he looked forward to testing the free agent waters.

The ECHL is a AA-level pro league which had 26 teams last season. Zuhlsdorf had a goal and eight assists in his final season with the Gophers. The Swamp Rabbits are an affiliate of the NHL's Carolina Hurricanes.

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