For a second consecutive season the Gopher men's hockey team will not be dancing in the NCAA Tournament.
First-year head coach Bob Motzko led a relatively young team that showed promise, but still has a ways to go to return to national dominance. The 2018-19 team graduates nine seniors and has plenty of question marks heading into next season.
With Eric Schierhorn and Brock Kautz graduating and Matt Robson turning pro, the Gophers have three goalies joining the program next season but it's unclear who the starter will be.
Jack LaFontaine: played two seasons at the University of Michigan before leaving the Wolverines last season to play in BCHL. The 21 year old was a third-round pick by the Carolina Hurricanes and his numbers were much better in the junior ranks.
- Michigan: 5-11-1, 3.42 GAA, 902 SV%
- BCHL: 30-13-0, 2.19 GAA. .923 SV%
He'll be a junior when next season begins and he's the only goaltender with NCAA experience.
Jared Moe: the New Prague native will be a freshman and could steal the job and run with it if he's ready. After a stellar career at Holy Family Catholic, where he posted a 1.44 GAA in his final season, Moe played admirably in the USHSL with the Waterloo Black Hawks for two seasons.
- Waterloo: 36-13-3, 2.48 GAA, .913 SV%
It's worth noting that Moe left Holy Family after his junior year to play in Waterloo, so he put up those numbers as an 18/19 year old.
Justen Close: the Canadian has spent his entire career playing north of the border. He'll be a bit older as freshman, as he'll be 21 when next season begins, but he posted legit numbers in the Canadian junior ranks.
- 58-39-0, 2.57 GAA, .922 SV%
It might seem a little worrisome not knowing who the starting and backup goalies are going to be, but Motzko has plenty of time and options to make an informed decision.
On the offensive side, another Mr. Hockey winner will be wearing maroon and gold next season when Blaine's Bryce Brodzinski joins the team.
Brodzinski, who verbally committed to St. Cloud State in 2016, flipped his decision when Motzko left SCSU for the U of M.
Just like his brothers Jonny, Michael and Easton, who also played college hockey, Bryce loves to shoot the puck putting up 32 goals this season with the Blaine Bengals.
- 2016-17: 17 goals, 23 assists, 40 points
- 2017-18: 27 goals, 26 assists, 53 points
- 2018-19: 32 goals, 44 assist, 76 points
Brodzinski will be one of the many young guns on the Gopher roster. Only seven other programs had a younger roster than the Gophers in 2018-19 and they just graduated nine seniors. That means they were loaded with freshmen and sophomores.
Motzko told reporters at his season-ending press conference that he's aware his roster will be dominated by underclassmen next season.
Among them is 2018 Mr. Hockey winner Sammy Walker, who wrapped up his freshman season by winning Big Ten Player of the Year.
The true freshman from Edina racked up 26 points (10 goals and 16 assists) in 37 games. His speed is his best weapon and he's a fun player to watch in person.
With Robson turning pro early despite still having NCAA eligibility, another player to watch in the coming weeks is Rem Pitlick. The junior put up team-leading 45 points (21 goals, 24 assists) this season and is a third-round pick by the Nashville Predators. If he can stick around to help bridge the gap on a young roster, the offense should have no problem scoring.
It might be an uphill battle for the Gophers considering how good St. Cloud State, Minnesota-Duluth and Minnesota State are at the moment, but the Gophers will have a young and exciting roster to work with next season.
If they can figure out the goaltending situation and mature along the way, Motzko might be able to turn things around in a hurry.