MINNEAPOLIS — With 11 of the 12 new Minnesota Gophers on the ice with their coaching staff for the first time Tuesday afternoon, it may have made some sense for the players to have their name plastered on the front of their helmets via magic marker on a strip of white hockey tape.
Instead, because of the team wearing new gear from CCM, which is now the Gophers’ official equipment supplier, the players were mostly anonymous on the rink. It made the 60 minutes of ice time at Ridder Arena — one of four hours of weekly skills instruction that the team is allowed between now and Oct. 5 — even more challenging for the guys with the whistles.
“We have 19 freshmen and sophomores and then we didn’t have the numbers on the back of the helmets yet, and a couple guys switched cages, so we spent half our time like you, just trying to figure out who they are,” Gophers head coach Bob Motzko said. “That’s the fun part of the start of the year, too, because they’re going 100 miles an hour. Great enthusiasm. It was a real good first day.”
The team’s Oct. 6 exhibition game versus Mount Royal is still 25 days away, and they won’t need a “real” line chart until Oct. 11 when they travel to Colorado College for the regular season opener. Still, the first draft of which forwards and defensemen will play together has been put on paper, subject to much change.
“Honest to goodness, we did it this morning, because we have a couple guys out. I did tell the guys, of course, we’re going to try (Blake) McLaughlin and (Sammy) Walker. You have to, because they were so good together last year,” Motzko said. “But can I tell you that’s going to be the line? No, you can’t. We’re deep, we’re just inexperienced. But we’re deep with talent. I’ve been through this too many times where I don’t make lines in the summer, because I’ve never picked right once to start a year — ever. So I quit wasting ink in the summer.”
Once there are numbers on the helmets, Motzko said that the selection of which players will wear a ‘C’ or an ‘A’ on their sweater will be determined for a young team where leadership will be important.
“This week, we’ll talk about it as a staff, and if it’s time, it’s time,” Motzko said. “Sometimes you know who the next captain is the minute your season ends. Sometimes with a young group they might know now. We’re just going to let them pick it here in the next week or two.”
It was also the first time on the ice with the team for new hockey operations director Greg May, who had coached high school for five years previously. His new co-workers joked that the bigger, faster college players were an eye-opener for May.
“I did make that comment that it’s a little faster out there, and he said, ‘Boy, is the rink small,’” Motzko said with a laugh.
The team was short two players Tuesday, with freshman Noah Weber and junior Scott Reedy both shelved because of injury.