Faber, LaCombe and Nelson named Gophers captains

Two defenders and a forward will supply the Minnesota team leadership in 2022-23, and the naming of three new players to wear the 'C' means the end of three-time captain Sammy Walker's days with the Gophers.

Brock Faber of the U.S. skates with the puck as Frederik Tiffels of Germany attempts to take it away
Brock Faber of the U.S. skates with the puck as Frederik Tiffels of Germany attempts to take it away during a preliminary round game Feb. 13, 2022, at the 2022 Beijing Olympics.
Annegret Hilse / Reuters

MINNEAPOLIS – The Minnesota Gophers talented and experienced defensive group is the primary reason many early predictors have them winning the Big Ten again, and returning to the Frozen Four. Two of those defenders will now officially be team leaders, in the locker room and on the ice.

On Wednesday, the Gophers announced their trio of captains for the 2022-23 season will be defensemen Brock Faber and Jackson LaCombe and forward Jaxon Nelson. Faber will be a junior while LaCombe and Nelson are rising seniors. The captains are picked via a vote of the team's players.

“These three are following in a long line of incredible Gopher leadership and I know they'll continue to carry that tradition this season,” Gophers coach Bob Motzko said in a statement released by the school. “They have given their heart and soul to this program so it's only fitting that they have this opportunity to lead.”

The three combined for 54 points last season as the Gophers captured the conference’s regular season title and made their first trip to the Frozen Four since 2014. Although Faber missed time in February, playing for Team USA at the Winter Olympics, and Nelson was out for a month due to a broken ankle suffered in a win at Michigan State in early January.

Faber, from Maple Grove, was originally drafted by the Los Angeles Kings. On Wednesday the Kings traded his rights to the Minnesota Wild as part of the Kevin Fiala trade . LaCombe, who is from Eden Prairie, was a 2019 second round pick of the Anaheim Ducks. Nelson, who is from Magnolia, Minnesota, was a prep star at Luverne. In the 102 years of Gopher hockey history, they will be the 176th, 177th and 178th players to wear the ‘C.’


jea 0369 Gophers vs Michigan
Minnesota Gophers forward Jaxon Nelson (24) scores on this wrist shot past Michigan goaltender Erik Portillo (1) in the first period of the Big Ten Men’s Hockey championship game at Mariucci Arena in Minneapolis on Saturday, March 19, 2022. (John Autey / Pioneer Press)
John Autey / Pioneer Press

"I was super stoked and excited," said LaCombe of getting the news. "Growing up, you dream of stuff like this, and it's so special to me, being from Minnesota, and to have teammates and coaches thinking of me like that."

Motzko added that the Gophers have a very deep pool of upperclassmen beyond the three new captains, and mentioned senior defensemen Ryan Johnson and Matt Staudacher, and senior goalie Justen Close as the the "next wave" of leadership.

Minnesota Gophers defenseman Jackson LaCombe (2) takes a shot at Michigan State goalie Drew DeRidder (1) during the third period Saturday, Feb. 5, 2022, at 3M Arena at Mariucci in Minneapolis.
Jason Wachter / The Rink Live

Somewhat related, the naming of three new captains means the expected departure of Sammy Walker from the program. Named Mr. Hockey in 2018 at Edina and the Big Ten’s top freshman in 2019, Walker had been a team captain for the past three seasons. He was third on the team in goals last season with 14 as a senior and under NCAA rules offering additional eligibility due to the pandemic, could have returned for another season of college hockey.

Walker, who was drafted by the Tampa Bay Lightning and has attended that team’s development camp in the past, has not yet signed a professional contract nor has he officially announced his plans for next season. But on Wednesday, Gophers coaches told The Rink Live that they do not expect him back with the team.

Alaska vs Minnesota
With a third period assist, Gophers forward Sammy Walker recorded his 100th career point Minnesota's 4-1 win over the Alaska Nanooks at 3M Arena at Mariucci in Minneapolis on Friday, Jan. 14, 2022.
Brad Rempel / University of Minnesota Athletics

"I come in and Sammy was with me all four years," Motzko said. "I'm forever indebted to him. He was an outstanding player, a great leader and a fan favorite. We grew a lot as a program in the past four years, and Sammy was a big part of that."

Brock Faber, Matthew Knies and Logan Cooley will skate for Team USA when the 2022 World Junior Hockey Championship begins on Aug. 9, as that trio of Minnesota Gophers was named to the Americans' 25-man roster.
Roughly 48 hours after parting ways with Mel Pearson, the University of Michigan picked a former Wolverines player — recruited by Pearson — and assistant coach to lead their program for the coming season.
The American team leadership will have a Big Ten flair, with former Michigan standout Thomas Bordeleau and Notre Dame star Landon Slaggert named alternate captains.
With a pair of commitments this week, the Minnesota Gophers will be adding a familiar name at forward and an adopted Minnesotan on defense in future years. Plus, a Gophers captain will wear the C in international competition.
After five years as their head coach and another 23 as an assistant coach there, Mel Pearson will not return to coach the Michigan Wolverines next season, per a published report. The dismissal comes in the wake of a damning law firm report on transgressions within the hockey program.
A decade ago, I got to know Mel Pearson when he was a college hockey head coach for the first time, and met one of the sport's good guys. As a damning report on his time at Michigan is revealed, it is fair to be disappointed, bewildered and disgusted.
UMass declared the graduate student forward medically disqualified to compete after an injury suffered during spring workouts. Wait won a NCAA title with the Minutemen after transferring from the Minnesota Gophers following his sophomore season.
In all, 15 with ties to the Gophers women's hockey program were invited to Buffalo to try out and train for international competition in Denmark and Canada, and 12 will attend.
The former White Bear Lake High School and University of Minnesota forward is one of the organizers for the 2023 Hockey Day Minnesota event that will take place in White Bear Township. Anderson also talks about his playing career with The Rink Live's Jess Myers and Mick Hatten.
From Minnesota to Michigan to New York to Quebec to Virginia, then back to Michigan before (hopefully) a trip to Alberta for World Juniors, incoming Gophers defenseman Ryan Chesley will be well-traveled by the time he gets to Dinkytown.
Last season, Jack LaFontaine got one NHL start to prove himself with the Carolina Hurricanes. After being a top-10 draft pick a generation ago, Jason Herter got one game, just one, to prove himself at the NHL level.
After just 75 minutes on the ice in the NHL, Jack LaFontaine was effectively laid off by the Carolina Hurricanes, who had rushed him out of college in the middle of the Minnesota Gophers' season. It serves a reminder that in pro sports, the athletes are too often treated like chess pieces and not people.

If he does not sign with the Lightning by Aug. 15, Walker will become a free agent. He was one of three captains last season, alongside goalie Jack LaFontaine and forward Ben Meyers. LaFontaine left the team in January to sign a pro contract with the Carolina Hurricanes, and Meyers — who was named the top players in the Big Ten — signed with the Colorado Avalanche as a free agent after the Gophers’ season concluded.

While their full schedule has not yet been announced, the Gophers are expected to open the season on Saturday, Oct. 1 at home versus Lindenwood.

"It's pretty exciting. Obviously we're going to have a great group again," LaCombe said. "Every year you're fired up for the beginning of the season, but especially now with this team and the core guys we have. We're really excited for a great year."


Jess Myers covers college hockey, as well as outdoors, general sports and travel, for The Rink Live and the Forum Communications family of publications. He came to FCC in 2018 after three decades of covering sports as a freelancer for a variety of publications, while working full time in politics and media relations. A native of Warroad, Minn. (the real Hockeytown USA), Myers has a degree in journalism/communications from the University of Minnesota Duluth. He lives in the Twin Cities. Contact Jess via email at, or find him on Twitter via @JessRMyers. English speaker.
What to read next
Luke Strand will be joining the coaching staff as the associate head coach at Ohio State
The Minnesota Gophers are adding another burst of experience to their already loaded women's roster, as defender Lizi Norton is transferring from UMD. Also, former men's captain Sammy Walker will test the free agent waters, and Buckeyes national champion Liz Schepers signs with the hometown Whitecaps.