Freshmen make seamless transition on top-ranked Gophers
NOV 13, 2013 1:50p ET
MINNEAPOLIS -- The freshmen on the Gophers men's hockey team had big skates to fill. Minnesota lost four key players to the professional ranks last year, leaving a void entering this season.
Through the first month of the season, Minnesota's freshman class has helped Gophers fans forget about the likes of Erik Haula and Nick Bjugstad and Zach Budish and Nate Schmidt. The talented youngsters on coach Don Lucia's squad have helped key the Gophers to a 6-1-1 start and the No. 1 ranking -- and they've made it look easy.
"They've made a pretty seamless transition," Lucia said of the freshman class. "I think a big part of that is how the older guys have treated them. They've come into the program for the most part they get to play with some upperclassmen on a given line. I think the upperclassmen have certainly helped ease their transition."
While the freshmen have already passed the eye test, a quick look at the Gophers' statistics reinforces just how good this group has been. Forward Hudson Fasching, an Apple Valley, Minn., native, is second on the team in scoring with 11 points, trailing only junior Sam Warning.
Fasching, a bigger presence on the ice at 6-foot-2, 207 pounds, has played on Minnesota's top line with Warning and junior Kyle Rau. So far, he's reaped the benefits of having those talented upperclassmen as linemates.
"They bring pucks to the net. I'm just there to clean up the garbage most of the time," Fasching said. "It's worked out really well for me. They've been awesome."
Right behind Fasching on the Gophers' list of leading scores is a pair of freshmen who played with each other before stepping foot on campus. Justin Kloos, a Burnsville native, and Taylor Cammarata, originally from Plymouth, were teammates on the Waterloo Black Hawks in the USHL. Kloos played three seasons of junior hockey there, while Cammarata spent two seasons in Waterloo after playing for two years at hockey factory Shattuck-St. Mary's in Faribault, Minn.
The former teammates have now become Gophers linemates, along with senior captain Nate Condon. The chemistry has clicked for that line, as Kloos has 10 points (three goals, seven assists) and Cammarata is tied for fourth on the team with nine points (three goals, six assists).
"We had built a pretty good relationship on the ice and off the ice last year," said Kloos, who had 87 points for Waterloo last year. "I think we were able to come here and get through some of the tough periods together. We learned to balance each other pretty well from last year, so we've been able to figure out the adjusting so far."
Minnesota has had plenty of contributions from freshmen besides that high-scoring trio. Michael Brodzinski has held his own on defense, forward Vinni Lettieri continues to earn praise for his work ethic, and redshirt freshman Connor Reilly -- who missed last season with a knee injury -- has three points in six games.
In Saturday's 5-4 road win over Notre Dame, all five Gophers goals came via freshmen. Fasching had two of those (his first multi-goal game), while Kloos, Cammarata and freshman defenseman Jake Bischoff also scored. Following Saturday's victory, Minnesota's freshmen have now accounted for 43 percent of the Gophers' points so far this season.
Lucia isn't necessarily surprised to see his young players have this type of success this soon.
"When you've scored at a pretty high level in the USHL and you come into college, history says that you will continue to score," Lucia said. "For the most part, they were all pretty gifted scorers in junior hockey a year ago, even though they were coming out of high school. That's why coming into the year, we put them in some positions to have success."
This freshman class is a quiet and humble one, letting their play on the ice do most of the talking. They've had the benefit of learning from Minnesota's elder players -- the Condons and Raus and Warnings of the team. There's no sense of ego among the ultra-competitive freshmen, no jockeying for positioning on the list of scoring leaders.
Instead, they've slipped smoothly from the high school and junior hockey ranks into the rougher, tougher, faster world of college hockey. There have been some adjustments made along the way, but Minnesota's freshmen haven't let anything slow them down yet.
"We're a pretty tight unit. We all get along pretty well. We all work pretty hard to gain our roles and gain our spots on the roster," Fasching said. "I think that's a big component of why we're being successful right now. … We're still kind of the supporting cast. We've got a really good team around us, and that helps a lot."
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