By Roman Augustoviz
Junior defenseman Cade Fairchild had a goal and two assists in the Gophers’ 6-1 victory over British Columbia on Sunday. “It was a good game for us just to get our feet wet,” he said. “Some of the freshmen got a chance to get in there, maybe take out some of their nerves, get used to playing in Mariucci.
“It was definitely a confidence-builder for our team. It was good for us to play an opponent that we did not know anything about. It was a chance for us to try out our systems and that kind of thing.”
Fairchild scored midway through the second period on a shot from the top of the right circle. His assists came on Jay Barriball’s power-play goal in the first period and Nico Sacchetti’s goal in the third. BC had only 11 shots on goal.
“They only got 10 shots on net, which is obviously good for us and our goaltender,” said Fairchild, off by one on the shots. “I thought overall we played good. We played solid. It’s a good thing to build off of.”
And the Gophers better build quickly. In less than two weeks now, they open the season at North Dakota on Oct. 16-17.
“Obviously, the skill level is going to jump up big-time in two weeks but I don’t think it is going to be hard for the guys to keep the intensity [up],” Fairchild said. “I think the guys are already starting to feel it. We will take a day off tomorrow and then get back to practice the rest of this week. And then next week will be a regular week.
“We will practice Monday to Wednesday and head up there and do our work up there.”
Freshman Nick Leddy, another defenseman, also had a goal against BC on a late power play. Fairchild expects the goals to keep coming from the blue-liners.
“A good majority of the guys that will get ice time [on the blue line] will be guys that can jump up in the play,” Fairchild said. “Historically at Minnesota, we do have defensemen that have that capability. And that’s going to be a big part of our team this year.”
Leddy, who was named Mr. Hockey last season as a senior at Eden Prairie, is a good-skating, good stick-handling defenseman. Seth Helgeson, the other freshman defenseman, played in the USHL. He is 6-5, 220.
“They are opposite players,” Fairchild said. “But they are very good in their own ways and I thought that they both played really well tonight. First game, it’s a tough one to swallow. But Leddy got a goal and I was happy with both their play tonight.”
Fairchild said the sting of not making the NCAA tournament — after eight trips in a row — hurt a lot.
“We had a long summer to think about things,” he said. “It was an overwhelmingly bitter feeling about last yeear. But we defiinitely put our work in this summer. Everyone was here this summer. We worked out at 7:30 in the morning five days a week all summer.
“The team this year is the most close-knit team that I have been a part of. It is a fun atmosphere. Everyone is on the same page. We have a big-time experience factor this year, which is really nice.”
Fairchild said that experience absolutely makes a big difference. “This is the most seniors I have had on our team since I’ve been here,” he said. “We have a pretty good size junior class and sophomore class. Obviously, we only have four freshmen, which I think is huge. Everybody has been there. And at the same time, 18 of 22 guys have that bitter feeling from last year. So everybody is chomping at the bit to get going.”
Hunger and talent, is that the mix which will carry the Gophers far this season?