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Expectations abound as Gophers open their 2022-23 campaign versus D-I newcomer Lindenwood

The first-ever game played by Lindenwood on Saturday will mark 102 seasons of Minnesota Gophers hockey, and with a mostly unknown opponent coming to town, the home club will focus on itself and what it needs to improve with an October schedule that gets tougher quickly.

jea Gophers vs Ferris MH
Minnesota Gophers head coach Bob Motzko gave his players instructions during a time out against Ferris State in the first period of an NCAA Men's Hockey game at 3M Arena at Mariucci in Minneapolis on Saturday, Dec. 29, 2018.
John Autey / The Rink Live
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MINNEAPOLIS – By sometime on Saturday evening, the Minnesota Gophers will have just completed their 3,152nd game as they begin their 102nd season as a college hockey program. And when that final horn sounds inside 3M Arena at Mariucci, the Lindenwood Lions will have one all-time game under their belts as their adventure as a Division I college hockey program begins.

The Lions, from suburban St. Louis, have been a club team for the last several years with former North Dakota and NHL standout Rick Zombo at the helm. But even before their official move to the D-I level was announced, Zombo was recruiting players under the promise that they would play at college hockey’s top level by the time they got to Missouri in 2022.

If the Lions want to study what the Gophers can and will do on the ice, there is plenty of footage from last season, when Bob Motzko’s crew made its first Frozen Four trip since 2014. Needless to say, there is no game tape of the Lions that Motzko can go over with his team in preparation for the Saturday-Sunday series. But at this time of the season, the Gophers focus inward, on discovering who they are, what the 11 new faces can and will do, and which line combinations and defensive pairings seem to work best.

St Cloud vs Minnesota
Minnesota Gophers forward Matthew Knies, left, and St. Cloud State Huskies forward Nick Perbix tangled along the boards at 3M Arena at Mariucci in an Oct. 15, 2021 meeting between the teams in Minneapolis.
Brad Rempel / University of Minnesota Athletics

“No matter who we’re playing, it’s about ourselves. We have no film we can look at. It’s all about us and how we’re playing early in the year,” Motzko said when he met with the media on Thursday. “We have to only concentrate on what we’re doing right now and worry about opponents down the road.”

The Gophers’ opponents should have their hands full this weekend, with Minnesota ranked second in the national polls and predicted to repeat as Big Ten champions. Those high expectations come not only from the success last season and the key players – most notably on defense – who returned to the U of M rather than sign pro contracts. It also comes from a recruiting class ranked among the nation’s best.

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Rookies Jimmy Snuggerud and Logan Cooley – both of whom hear their names called in round one of the 2022 NHL Draft – played on a line together for Team USA in the National Team Development Program last winter, and for the Americans in last summer’s World Junior Championships. Motzko admitted that he tried to separate them early in the Gophers’ training camp, but the chemistry was just too good not to try to replicate in maroon and gold.

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The coach also talked about depth in goal, and said that both senior Justen Close, who backstopped the Frozen Four run last spring, and freshman Owen Bartoszkiewicz will get a start this weekend. After the Lions leave town, the Gophers’ next three opponents are national runner-up Minnesota State Mankato (home-and-home) a home series with historical rival North Dakota and then a trip to Big Ten contender Ohio State. Motzko joked that the media should come back in three weeks and he could provide much more in-depth analysis of what he’s got on the roster. But the sense of optimism about these Gophers is palpable.

“Well, we’re off and running,” Motzko said. “I like what we see. We need some games though, to keep putting it all together. The early part of the season is like putting a puzzle together … but there’s a lot to work with, I can tell you that.”

Weekend details

Saturday and Sunday’s games versus Lindenwood are 7 p.m. starts and will be televised by Bally Sports North Extra with Sam Ekstrom on play-by–play and former Gophers standout Ben Clymer serving as analyst. The games can also be streamed on Bally Sports Plus and B1G+.

On radio, the Gophers can be heard on 100.3 FM / 1130 AM / 103.5 FM in the Twin Cities with Wally Shaver and Frank Mazzocco beginning their 11th season together describing the action.

Postgame interviews with coach Motzko and Gophers players can be seen live, roughly 10 minutes after the final horn at The Rink Live’s Facebook page.

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 jrmyers@forumcomm.com, or find him on Twitter via @JessRMyers. English speaker.
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