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Updated: October 2nd, 2011 9:40pm
Gophers score early, not often, in 3-0 exhibiton hockey win

Gophers score early, not often, in 3-0 exhibiton hockey win

by Jess Myers
1500ESPN.com
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MINNEAPOLIS -- If only the locals were this dominant every time a hockey club from Vancouver came to town.

It didn't have the intensity or the audience one normally sees at a meeting between the Minnesota Wild and Vancouver Canucks, but Minnesota Gopher hockey fans are certainly hopeful that Sunday night's 3-0 exhibition win over the University of British Columbia is a preview of what to expect when the real games begin on Friday.

There has been speculation in some college hockey circles for years that a way to grow the sport in the United States would be to allow Canadian colleges to compete in the NCAA. The first period on Sunday put another knock in that theory, as the Gophers out-shot the Thunderbirds 15-0, and led 1-0 just 85 seconds in.

While much has been made about the importance of Gopher coach Don Lucia's top line, which features Nick Bjugstad centering Zach Budish and newcomer Kyle Rau, it was the second unit doing the damage. The trio of Jake Hansen, Erik Haula and rookie Sam Warning had a hand in all three goals.

"We know the first two lines are going to play a lot, so I don't think guys are too worried," said Hansen, who had 11 goals last season and is the team's top returning scorer. "Haula and I played together the last half of last year, and that felt pretty good. We know where we're going, and Warning was a nice addition."

The Gophers out-shot UBC 44-10 for the game, but didn't truly pull away until the final second when rookie defenseman Blake Thompson buried an empty-net goal. Rather than fretting about scoring, which was a challenge much of last season, Lucia credited the Thunderbirds' goalie, and said that his own goalies looked good in the shutout. Kent Patterson, who will be the everyday goalie this season, started and stopped all three shots he faced in the first 30 minutes of the game. Freshman Michael Shibrowski came on in relief and had seven saves.

"Originally we were only going to play Kent a period, but he didn't have a shot so we had to leave him in there for half," Lucia said. "We went with Shibrowski the second half because we wanted to give him a shot and he did a nice job."

The Gophers open the regular season at home versus Sacred Heart on Friday. The Pioneers, who are based in Fairfield, Conn., were 6-25-6 last season.

Irish not coming west

The other college hockey news of the day came from the new National Collegiate Hockey Conference, which announced that it will begin play with eight teams in 2013-14. What that really means, is that the new alliance of Colorado College, Denver, Miami (Ohio), Minnesota Duluth, Nebraska-Omaha, North Dakota, St. Cloud State and Western Michigan is no longer waiting around for Notre Dame to make a decision.

The NCHC had extended an invite to the Irish, who are still playing in the soon-to-be-defunct Central Collegiate Hockey Association, but the NCHC had imposed, then extended, a deadline, which the folks in South Bend apparently failed to meet. Notre Dame, according to many, is looking for a conference home which will allow the school to have its own television contract.

In the wake of the NCHC announcement, reports began swirling immediately, including one in the South Bend Tribune, that the Irish (currently ranked number one in the nation) will announce they are joining Hockey East as soon as Wednesday. That Boston-based conference is home to such national heavyweights as Boston College, Boston University, New Hampshire and Maine. Notre Dame's new on-campus arena opens later this month.

Jess Myers covers the Wild and college hockey for 1500ESPN.com. He is a member of the editorial advisory board for USA Hockey Magazine.
Email Jess | @JessRMyers
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