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.
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.’
"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.
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.
"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."
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."