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Gophers notebook: Walker grateful for Team USA experience

Gophers freshman forward Sammy Walker has four goals in and six assists in his first 15 collegiate games. Jim Rosvold1 / 2
Gophers coach Bob Motzko. University of Minnesota Athletics2 / 2

MINNEAPOLIS -- The good news for the Minnesota Gophers, heading into their weekend home series versus Ferris State, is that they may have a full roster for the games.

That’s also the bad news for freshman forward Sammy Walker, who was one of the final cuts from the Team USA roster for the World Junior Championship after their training camp in Everett, Wash.

“Obviously it’s a bummer not making the team, but I’m happy to be back and just looking forward now,” said Walker, who was Minnesota’s Mr. Hockey last season for Edina High School. “It was a great experience just seeing all the players. You kind of know where you stand now, so I think it was definitely good.”

Gophers coach Bob Motzko has a unique perspective on the process, having been the coach of Team USA the previous two seasons.

“We were sure pulling for him and I’m sure he had a great camp. I did talk to him briefly and said to remember you’re talking to a guy that cut Alex DeBrincat. I probably made a huge mistake with that one, so it happens,” Motzko said, referring to the Chicago Blackhawks forward who scored 28 goals as a rookie last season.

Motzko left DeBrincat off the roster for the 2017 team that won a gold medal.

“Those coaching staffs, trust me, are trying to do whatever they can to be successful to put those teams together, but the great news for us is we’re glad Sammy’s back with us right now,” Motzko said.

The status of Gophers freshman forward Sampo Ranta is up in the air. He was not named to the initial list of forwards for the Team Finland roster, but teams are allowed to add players later. Motzko said that Ranta is still in British Columbia and they don’t know if he will be available for the Ferris State games.

New Mariucci Classic coming in a year

Tis the season for holiday tournaments, and while St. Cloud State travels to Pittsburgh next weekend for the Three Rivers Classic and both Minnesota Duluth and Minnesota State Mankato get to enjoy the Arizona sunshine this weekend as participants in the Desert Hockey Classic, the Gophers will be at home. From 1991 to 2017 the Gophers hosted a holiday tournament named the Mariucci Classic and won the title 14 of the 26 times it was held.

The team announced on Wednesday that the tournament will return next season with an all-Minnesota flair. The Gophers will host in-state rivals Bemidji State, Minnesota State Mankato and St. Cloud State over the 2019 holidays.

“I love it...We’ll bring four programs together, and we’re going to continue to look at things like that in the future and maybe a few other surprises that we’ll talk about,” Motzko said, noting that he does not expect the Mariucci Classic to feature four Minnesota teams each year.

In previous years, four of the five Minnesota teams had gotten together each January at Xcel Energy Center for the North Star College Classic, but that tournament was disbanded after the 2017 event.

The Gophers’ holiday tournament played outside Minnesota was in December 1990 when they lost to Boston College but beat the University of Toronto for third place in the Great Western Freeze Out, played at the Forum in Los Angeles.