April 07, 2020

Minn. natives eager to play Gophers Black Bears set for Friday night season opener

He will play the opener of his senior season in his backyard in a rink singled out by Sports Illustrated magazine as the best in the National Hockey League.

So even though beating the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers in the Hall of Fame game tonight will be a tall order, University of Maine defenseman and assistant captain Mike Lundin from Apple Valley, Minn., can’t wait to play.

“You can’t ask for anything more. Playing a college hockey game to start your senior season in your home state playing in a great arena with great fans and two great teams,” said Lundin.

Lundin isn’t the only Bear enjoying a homecoming as sophomore defenseman Bryan Plaszcz, also from Apple Valley, will be in the lineup, too.

“It’s going to be crazy. Twenty thousand fans all screaming for Minnesota and getting to play in front of your family and friends,” said Plaszcz. “I’ve had a tough time sleeping.”

Maine coach Tim Whitehead said, “It’s going to be a great opportunity for them. Getting to play in front of your family and friends is going to be a thrill for them.”

Lundin is Maine’s most experienced defenseman and the only senior. He has 120 games under his belt while Plaszcz will be the least experienced with six games to his credit.

“Mike is the backbone of our defense,” said Maine senior right wing Keith Johnson. “He’s only missed a handful of games [6] and he’s always dependable. Bryan has an opportunity to step up [and become a regular] and he has looked good so far. He seems to be up for the challenge.”

Minnesota coach Don Lucia considers Lundin “one of the top defensemen in the East. He stepped right in [and played] as a freshman. He can play both ends of the ice.”

Vermont coach Kevin Sneddon called him “very steady” and a “very good player,” and Boston University coach Jack Parker considers Lundin a “terrific defenseman.”

“He has always been a good defensive player and he has gained confidence offensively. He played the point on the number one power play in our league last year,” said Parker.

Lundin has high expectations this season.

“Every year, I’ve improved a lot. I want to put it all together this year,” said Lundin. “I’m faster and stronger than I’ve ever been. I want to handle the puck a little more. Being more confident has been my big focus. I want to do more for the team. I’d like to put up more points.”

Lundin had three goals and 13 assists a year ago and has 7 & 42 in his career.

Plaszcz knows he will be given every chance to become a regular and hopes to take advantage of it.

“We lost a couple of great defensemen in [Steve] Mullin and [Travis] Wight, so I’m going to try to step in and fill their shoes,” said Plaszcz.

He feels he has improved his strength and quickness and said he now needs to “get my confidence up.”

Maine senior left wing and assistant captain Josh Soares expects good things from Plaszcz.

“He had some things to work on after last season and he has worked on them,” said Soares. “He has played really well. He’s a great shot blocker and he has some offensive ability.”

Plaszcz knows he and his mates will have their hands full against the No. 3 team in the country in the latest U.S. College Hockey Online poll. Maine is ranked 11th.

“They’ll be fast and they can all score. We’ve got to do our best to keep them away from the net front,” said Plaszcz.

Lucia will have several new faces in his lineup after losing four of the top five scorers off last year’s 27-9-5 team, including three (Ryan Potulny, Phil Kessel, and Danny Irmen) who had eligibility remaining but decided to sign pro contracts.

He anticipates a stiff challenge.

“When you think of Maine, they always have a good goaltender, strong special teams, and a good defensive team that is always in your face,” said Lucia. “Their lineup has a lot of experience and they have older players [age-wise]. That’s how they’ve built their program.”

The Gophers are just the opposite this year.

“We’re going to have a pretty young team. We’ll have nine different players in our lineup,” said Lucia. “We have talented players, but it’s going to take some time [to jell].

“This will be a great test for our young guys, playing a team like Maine that was a Frozen Four team a year ago and is projected to be a top team again.”

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