In its storied history at the University of Minnesota, the men’s hockey team has never matched up with Sacred Heart University.
That will change Friday at Mariucci Arena.
Minnesota will host the Pioneers on Friday and Saturday in search of a hot start to the 2011-12 season.
The Gophers already have an unofficial win under their belt, as they defeated British Columbia 3-0 in their only exhibition game at Mariucci Arena on Sunday.
Senior captain Taylor Matson said the team is ready for the regular season to begin.
Sacred Heart finished with a 6-25-6 record last season, which included an abysmal 2-16-3 on the road. Regardless of last season’s statistics, Matson said his team understands it can’t overlook any opponent.
It was just last year the Gophers were favored in the first round of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association playoffs only to be upset at home by Alaska-Anchorage.
“We’re not going to take them lightly,” Matson said of Sacred Heart. “We know we can’t underestimate anyone.”
Minnesota enters the season ranked 19th in the United States College Hockey Online poll.
Six WCHA teams rank ahead of the Gophers: North Dakota (3rd), Denver (4th), Colorado College (7th), Minnesota-Duluth (8th), Nebraska-Omaha (14th) and Wisconsin (17th).
There is also an added pressure to this season, as Minnesota has failed to make the NCAA tournament in each of the last three years.
“Obviously we want to get back there, but we’re not going to worry about March in October,” head coach Don Lucia said. “When you start looking that far down the line, you forget to do the things that are necessary to do today.
“I think our group is motivated and they’re fun to be around. They know what the goal is and I think they’re willing to work to get there.”
Minnesota’s roster is peppered with young talent. A bulk of the freshman class received significant playing time in the exhibition game against British Columbia.
Lucia said he has confidence in this young core because they “understand what this program is all about” and have had success before entering college.
Matson said he has seen a growth in the freshmen since he first started working with them in the summer.
“I think they’re getting a lot more comfortable on the ice, more confident,” Matson said. “We got to see that in the first exhibition game. A lot of them [have] got to play, and we will be seeing a lot of that this weekend.”
While a majority of the freshmen gained valuable experience last weekend, senior goaltender Kent Patterson saw little action.
Patterson started the game in net, but didn’t face a shot in the first period.
He finished with three saves, but said despite the lack of shots he faced against British Columbia, he feels ready for Sacred Heart this weekend.
Amid the expectations of this season and prospects of WCHA play starting up next weekend against rival Minnesota-Duluth, Lucia said a main focus remains on Sacred Heart.
“Obviously we want to win — that’s first and foremost why we play and keep score,” Lucia said.
“We also want to continue to do what we did on Sunday. I thought we played at a good speed. I thought we played physical. I thought we played pretty tenacious. Those are good ingredients to start from.”
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