MINNEAPOLIS — While he hasn’t actually been sleeping inside the 3M Arena at Mariucci weight room, in defiance of his coach’s orders to “live there” over the summer, Minnesota Gophers rising sophomore forward Blake McLaughlin has spent considerable time with trainer Cal Dietz, and has put on more than a dozen pounds of muscle in the off-season.
He will get an on-ice test of that new frame along with two Minnesota teammates next week as McLaughlin, incoming freshman defenseman Jackson LaCombe and incoming freshman forward Ryan Johnson head to Plymouth, Mich., to play for Team USA at the World Junior Summer Showcase.
When they face Finland, they’ll see a familiar face, as Gophers rising sophomore forward Sampo Ranta will skate for his home country in the five-team tournament. It is part of the tryout process for the 2020 IIHF World Junior Championships, which will be held Dec. 26-Jan. 5 in the Czech Republic. Minnesota Duluth head coach Scott Sandelin is coaching Team USA and will pick the final roster from the 44 Americans headed to the showcase.
“It’s a huge honor to represent your country, so it should be a fun time,” said McLaughlin, who was second on the Gophers among rookie scorers with five goals and 15 assists in 35 games last season. “It’s definitely a tryout, but there aren’t too many nerves there, because you’re playing a game you’ve been playing since you’re a little kid. You’ve just got to compete.”
The 11-game tournament includes two American teams as well as squads from Finland, Canada and Sweden. Ranta was one of the last players cut from the Finnish squad in 2019 that went on to win the tournament’s gold medal. McLaughlin and Ranta have roomed together over the summer, and are looking forward to an on-ice meeting.
“It’s going to be a fun game to play against him,” McLaughlin said. “He’s been in Finland the last few weeks just seeing his family before coming back over to the (United) States, but we’ve been talking about it quite a bit.”
It will be McLaughlin’s second on-ice camp of the summer after he traveled to Southern California in late June for the Anaheim Ducks development camp. McLaughlin, LaCombe, future Gophers forward Jack Perbix and former Gophers forward Brent Gates Jr. all skated in the Ducks’ camp, held in Irvine, Calif.
Bertagna begins final season
Not to put additional pressure on the likes of Boston College, Massachusetts, Northeastern or Providence, but a Hockey East team hoisting the national championship trophy in Detroit next April would be the perfect parting gift for Joe Bertagna.
Entering his 23rd year as commissioner of the nine-team conference, and after seven NCAA titles, Bertagna announced this week that the 2019-20 season will be his last at the helm.
Bertagna, 67, who played goalie at Harvard and was the ECAC Hockey commissioner prior to joining Hockey East in 1997, said he is proud of being fair to all of the conference members.
“That’s what I would want to hang my hat on the most, that day-to-day whether it was a positive issue or a negative issue, you’re in a position where you have to say no a lot to schools, and I’ve always tried to identify what is in the best interests of Hockey East as a single entity, and then stand by that,” Bertagna said on a conference call with college hockey media members. “Things that are in the interest of Hockey East as an entity aren’t always in the interest of all the schools at a given moment.”
Vermont and Connecticut joined the conference under Bertagna’s watch, while Notre Dame joined and then departed for the Big Ten after four seasons. He noted that he will still likely be a fixture in college hockey rinks somewhere.
“It’s not a retirement. I’m getting a lot of people congratulating me on my retirement. I’ve got two kids in college and I’m not a person who’s happy when I’m not working, so it’s clearly not a retirement,” said Bertagna, who recently announced an extension of his term as executive director of the American Hockey Coaches Association. “We’ll see what happens as the year goes on. I’m not going away from the college scene, just stepping away from this job and its duties.”
Date change for Minnesota Hockey players
While most youth hockey organizations in the U.S. and Canada go strictly by birth year for age classification, Minnesota Hockey — the state’s amateur hockey governing body — has used July 1 as the cut-off date for registration. This allows hockey players to be on the same team with their classmates in most cases, which is not possible when January 1 is the cut-off date.
Last week Minnesota Hockey made a 30-day tweak to their rules and changed the cut-off date to June 1, which will prevent kids with June birthdays from having to play with kids a year older, school-wise. Previously, players born in June who start kindergarten when they are 6 were forced to play hockey a year above their grade level, and were forced to start high school hockey in ninth grade. The modification is designed to give more players a positive youth hockey experience and provide a smoother transition to high school hockey.
“One of the greatest attributes of our community-based model in Minnesota is the opportunity for players to play with classmates and friends throughout their youth hockey career,” said Minnesota Hockey president-elect Steve Oleheiser in a statement. “The action of changing the cutoff birthdate by the Minnesota Hockey board of directors reaffirms the commitment of the board to our model and allowing players to play with their classmates and friends.”
More information is available at www.minnesotahockey.org.