Due to a few more of the varying factors that have made 2020 such a challenging time for so many, there will be no United States Hockey League games played in Madison, Wis., or Cedar Rapids, Iowa, this winter. As a result, two future Minnesota Gophers are on the move.
Last week, the USHL announced that the Madison Capitols and the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders would not compete in the 2020-21 season. The Capitols, who play in Middleton, Wis., and are owned by Minnesota Wild defenseman Ryan Suter, cited restrictions by the state and county implemented due to the COVID-19 pandemic that would hinder their ability to practice and hold games. The RoughRiders’ decision to take a year off was due to the costly damage their home rink, ImOn Ice Arena, incurred in August when a severe wind storm tore across Iowa.
“Both clubs were resolute in their desire to take the ice, but ultimately these extenuating circumstances prevent them from playing this season,” said USHL president and commissioner Tom Garrity in a statement from the league. “We share the disappointment of RoughRiders and Capitols fans, and we look forward to welcoming these clubs back for the 2021-22 season.”
For the 40-plus players who were set to don Capitols and RoughRiders jerseys this winter, the USHL held a dispersal draft this week. It was to be the first season in Madison for forward Luke Mittelstadt, 17, a younger brother of former Gopher Casey — who played 31 games with the Buffalo Sabres last season. Instead, the younger Mittelstadt will spend the season with the Lincoln (Neb.) Stars, who claimed his rights. Luke was a member of the Eden Prairie High School teams that played for the state title in both 2019 and 2020.
The dispersal draft will mean a winter spent closer to home for future Gophers goalie Andrew “Geno” Pichora, 17, who played six games for the RoughRiders last season and was planning another season in eastern Iowa. Instead the Pittsburgh native will skate for the Youngstown (Ohio) Phantoms, who play their home games roughly an hour from Pichora’s hometown.
"I wasn't even expecting to be picked up because I didn't talk to anybody. I was kept in the dark until the draft came," said Pichora, who had considered playing for a North American Hockey League team this winter as well. "When I was 14 I went to Chicago and played there for a year and loved it, so really, whether I'm 10 hours away or just under two hours away, it doesn't really affect my game. I'll still play the same."
The USHL is planning an early November start to the season and, without Cedar Rapids and Madison, will have 14 competing teams in 2020-21.
Big city pads for a small town guy
The towering spires of St. Wenceslaus Catholic Church are about the closest thing to a skyline one will find in New Prague, Minn., (estimated population, 8,200) the hometown of Gophers sophomore goalie Jared Moe. But he stops pucks in the city now, and his new goalie pads reflect his new home in the heart of the metro area.
At practice this week, Moe debuted new Bauer leg pads and gloves which feature an urban skyline and a carefully hidden Gophers logo just above the ankles, with maroon buildings off-set by a snow-white sky and gold trim. While the skyline depicted on the left pad does not look to be Minneapolis-specific, on the right pad one can see the IDS Center, the Capella Tower, the Wells Fargo Center and the Foshay, among others. It is a symbolic reminder that of the seven Big Ten hockey programs, the Gophers play in the biggest metro area.
Moe, who is noticed for his size and because he is the Gophers’ first left-handed goalie in more than a decade, played in 16 games as a freshman with a dozen starts and finished with a 7-5-1 record. The Winnipeg Jets draft pick had a .915 save percentage, a 2.46 goals-against average and was named to the Big Ten’s all-freshman team.
Tragic loss in the Gophers family
Not long after Jon Waibel wrapped up his four years as a Gopher and left the U of M with a pair of national championship rings, Alyse Berggren was helping Lake of the Woods High School win the 2005 state title in volleyball. Waibel and Berggren both spent time in Minneapolis and Chicago before finding their way back to their hometown of Baudette, Minn., where they were engaged to be married.
After complaining of a headache last week, Berggren was found deceased last Friday morning from an inner cerebellar hemorrhage. She was 32 years old.
Gophers coach Bob Motzko, who was an assistant coach for Waibel on the 2002 and 2003 national title teams, and several of Waibel’s former teammates attended Berggren’s funeral, which was held at a resort on Lake of the Woods earlier this week.
Retired from playing and coaching hockey, Waibel, 38, is a farmer and Lake of the Woods County commissioner.