With the season days away, Gophers HC Don Lucia talks to the media about his higly ranked squad.
The No. 1/2 University of Minnesota men's hockey program held its annual preseason press conference on Wednesday afternoon in the Mariucci Arena Club Room.
A year after winning the MacNaughton Cup as the WCHA regular season champs and earning a trip to the program's 20th Frozen Four, the 2012-13 Gophers squad features a number of players with both talent and experience, starting right at the top with the team leadership.
"Our captains this year all work extremely hard," Minnesota head coach Don Lucia said. "When your best players are hard workers, I think that is when you can have good teams."
Junior Zach Budish will step into the captaincy, taking the place of graduated forward Taylor Matson -- one of the hardest workers in Gopher history. Senior Seth Helgeson and junior Nick Bjugstad will serve as alternate captains.
"(Being a captain) is a big honor because I grew up a Gopher fan," Budish said on Wednesday. "I idolized some of the captains of the past, so to be voted captain by my teammates is a great honor."
One of the perceived strengths of this year's squad is its depth, especially on the blue line with nine defensemen on roster including all six regular starters from last season. Up front, the team returns seven of their top nine forwards from last season's MacNaughton Cup championship team.
"This is the most talented team I have played with," Nate Schmidt, last year's breakout defenseman said. "Time will tell, but I think we have a good base to build on."
Bjugstad, who was named the WCHA Preseason Player of the Year last week, echoed his teammate's words.
"It is one of the tighter knit groups I have been a part of playing hockey," the junior forward said. "I think we really enjoy each other, and that will be a benefit on the ice."
With only one senior on this year's roster (Helgeson), the Gophers will be young although the team's experience last season will undoubtedly be a benefit for those returning. Lucia hopes to see this year's sophomore class pick their game up similar to the jump made by this year's junior class last season.
"(The sophomores) will have to take a step in their development. They are going to have to make a step in their contributions from an offensive standpoint," Lucia said. "If they are able to do that, it will provide us with great balance up front."
Lucia also spoke fondly of the team's final WCHA run - calling this season "bittersweet." The Gophers program, which jumps to the Big Ten Conference next year, was a founding member of the WCHA in 1951, and on Wednesday, Helgeson noted how important the team's final trek through the league schedule would be.
"(It's) definitely important," Helgeson said. "It's a time to make a statement, and go after those teams one last time."
Minnesota opens the 2012-13 season with an exhibition game against Lethbridge on Saturday at Mariucci Arena. The Gophers kick off the regular season on Oct. 12 at home against Michigan State.