Gophers React to High Expectations

Nick Bjugstad

MINNEAPOLIS — With a six of the top seven scorers returning from last year's Frozen Four team, the expectations are understandably high for the men's hockey team this season. Don Lucia and his players discussed the pressure and the lofty goals at Wednesday's preseason press conference.

The Gophers' improbable return to prominence last season has left many fans hoping for an encore. Predicted to repeat as WCHA champions and ranked first in the nation, the Gophers will look to build on last year.

"Obviously we had a taste of it, it was a nice little nibble but obviously the whole piece is back there waiting for us," said defenseman Nate Schmidt.

With only one senior on the roster something that will be hard to replicate from the previous season will be senior leadership.

"[Last year] we were hungry," said Lucia. "I think that was part of it. That started with our senior group that graduated last spring. They wanted to make sure that they returned to the NCAA Tournament and they want to make sure that when they came back to Mariucci that they could look up in the rafters and see that they contributed to something."

Despite not having many seniors, Minnesota will return a number of top players including Nick Bjugstad, Erik Haula, Kyle Rau, and Zach Budish. This group of talented forwards looks poised to lead the Gophers.

"We as a team, especially with the core group of guys coming back, we're looking to do something more special than last year," said Schmidt.

Building off the momentum of last season will be essential to the success of this team.

"Hopefully we can keep the momentum, that will be important," said Bjugstad. "We can't get too far ahead of ourselves. We've got to really prove ourselves. We had a great team last year with great seniors; we're going to have some shoes to fill."

Despite the lofty expectations put on the Gophers, the Maroon and Gold look poised to not let it affect their play. As the leader and captain, Budish discounted the important of preseason expectations and rankings in order to keep his young team focused on getting off to a strong start, building off of last season.

"Preseason rankings don't really mean a whole lot," said Budish. "You look at the last couple years at who's been ranked in the top five, and a lot of times it doesn't pan out. It's about setting that tone right away whether it's the first practice or this weekend with the exhibition game, it's just making sure that everyone's on the same page. We don't let that stuff get to our heads."

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