MINNEAPOLIS — There will likely be either no fans or very few fans allowed at Minnesota Gophers home games when the Big Ten hockey season starts. That is currently a state mandate handed down by Gov. Tim Walz, which limits indoor gatherings to no more than 250 attendees in an effort to limit the spread of Covid-19.
There are similar restrictions in place next door in Wisconsin, and since they won’t have many in-person spectators, the Gophers’ arch-rivals in red have already talked about holding their home games in a smaller venue. Labahn Arena, the 2,200-seat home of Wisconsin women’s hockey, is connected by tunnel to the Kohl Center, the 17,000-seat home of Badgers men’s hockey and basketball.
Per a story from Todd Milewski in the Wisconsin State Journal, there is a good chance the Badgers men will play at Labahn, which will provide a more intimate atmosphere, and save the University of Wisconsin money, as there would be no need to change the Kohl Center from a rink to a basketball court and back.
In a similar facility setup, Ridder Arena — the 3,400-seat home rink for Gophers women’s hockey — is connected via tunnel to 3M Arena at Mariucci, and it is common for the Gophers men to practice there, in advance of games on NHL-size ice sheets. But per Gophers coach Bob Motzko, even with very few fans in the stands, there are no plans to have the men play at Ridder or any other smaller venue this season.
“I think maybe if it wasn’t the 100-year celebration we maybe could’ve entertained something like that, but there are just too many things that are planned on it,” Motzko said this week.
The Gophers’ 10,000-seat home rink, which has a larger Olympic-size ice sheet, will have a new mural featuring highlights from the previous 99 seasons of Gophers hockey, and the 100th season logo may be embedded in the ice.
Robson headed to free agency
Amid all of the news of the NHL Draft’s second through seventh rounds on Wednesday, the Minnesota Wild also released their list of restricted free agents who will be signed to qualifying contracts for the coming season. One of last season’s Iowa Wild goalies, Kaapo Kahkonen, was on the list. The other Iowa Wild goalie, former Gopher Mat Robson, was not, meaning that Robson will be a free agent as of 11 a.m. on Friday.
Kahkonen got the bulk of starts in Des Moines last season. With Devan Dubnyk getting traded to San Jose recently, the Finn may share the Wild’s NHL net with former UMD star Alex Stalock when the next NHL season starts on Dec. 1, although Wild general manager Bill Guerin has said that the team will also explore the crop of goalies available in free agency.
Robson, who is from suburban Toronto, played 1 1/2 seasons for the Gophers, going 14-12-4 as a junior in 2018-19, and forgoing his final year of college eligibility to sign an entry level contract with the Wild. In Iowa last season he was 11-10-5 with a .901 saves percentage and a 2.76 goals-against average.
Leafs land Miller in late rounds
It is a longshot, but if things break right for both of them, Joe Miller may someday get to play pro hockey alongside Gophers legend Justin Holl, who scored the infamous 0.6 seconds left goal versus North Dakota in the 2014 NCAA Frozen Four.
Holl played 68 games on defense for the Toronto Maple Leafs last season. Miller, a Gophers commit who will start the hockey season with the USHL’s Chicago Steel, was picked by the Maple Leafs in the sixth round, 180th overall, in Wednesday’s NHL draft.
Miller, who turned 18 in September, averaged a goal-per-game for The Blake School last season, as the Bears made it to the Class AA state tournament.
“When I met with him before the season last year, I told him he needed to shoot more, and I threw out some numbers,” Bears coach Rob McClanahan said. “He beat me, and I think he learned a lot. By shooting more, it didn’t take away his playmaking ability, it actually made it better.”
McClanahan feels that Miller was a later-round pick only due to his size, which is officially listed as 5-foot-9, 146 pounds. They are hopeful that Miller, who is a high school senior, will play his final season of high school hockey as well as skating for the Steel this winter.