FELDY: Running tally for Don Lucia this summer: 2 de-commits, 1 high-end recruit ticked off and, now, a first-round draft pick possibly bolting after his freshman season.
October can't come soon enough for Lucia.
Former International Falls standout Jake Youso today became the second player to de-commit from the Gophers this summer, joining Ryan Walters, who has since joined Dean Blais at Nebraska-Omaha. Certainly, Youso is not as talented as Walters and it's really not a surprise that he withdrew his commitment to the Gophers to seek other college hockey options.
Youso managed just seven points in 69 USHL games over the 2007-08 and 08-09 seasons. Last year, he played with Owatonna in the NAHL, putting up decent numbers, 22 goals and 22 assists.
He still is eligible for junior hockey for one more year, but as Star Tribune writer Roman Augustoviz noted on his Twitter feed today, Youso wants to get on with his college hockey career. His playing time would have been very spotty for at least his first two years with the Gophers. Youso has a ton of talent; we saw it here in Rochester for three consecutive years when he led I-Falls to two Kiwanis Festival championships, but he may not have enough talent to crack the Gophers lineup on a regular basis this year or next.
Youso's de-commitment by itself isn't enough to question what's going on in Gopherville once again. But, you put it on top of Walters' de-commitment earlier this summer and the recent news that New Prague native — and sure-fire 2011 first-round NHL Draft pick — Seth Ambroz is, at the very least, irritated with the U's coaching staff, and you have to scratch your head again at what Lucia is doing.
Back to Ambroz in a bit, but the cherry on top of today's Gopher Turmoil Sundae is the news on sophomore-to-be Nick Leddy. Gopher hockey message boards and Twitter updates were buzzing with news that Leddy is apparently ready to leave the U after a ho-hum freshman season (11 points) to sign with the Stanley Cup champions Chicago Blackhawks.
Gut reaction: It wouldn't surprise me if he goes, considering the lack of respect NHL teams have shown for the Gophers program in recent years (starting with the Islanders and the Kyle Okposo situation, up through ex-Wild asst. GM Tommy Thompson's comments on the Gophers after trading Leddy to Chicago). It's conceivable that the Blackhawks — after watching Leddy perform extremely well at their development camp last week — would prefer to get him under contract now and let him develop with a Major Junior team.
A few reports have surfaced in the last hour or so that indicate Leddy is staying, including one report by Star Tribune Wild beat writer Michael Russo, who says he's been told the rumor is "100 percent untrue." Then, he added, "but Leddy had a great development camp so there may be conversations eventually this summer."
Regardless of what happens with Leddy, it's apparently a done deal now that Ambroz will not be in a Gophers sweater this fall. And Ambroz isn't really pleased with that situation. Augustoviz noted on Twitter last week that Ambroz — who has put up 80 points in 116 games over the past two seasons for Omaha of the USHL — accelerated his education to graduate this spring, a year early, so he could play at the U.
However, Augustoviz noted, Lucia told Ambroz that he wanted him to play another year in the USHL because he couldn't guarantee him ice time and that Ambroz is "too good to play on the fourth line." By all accounts, Ambroz is ready for the WCHA, and I have a hard time believing the Gophers couldn't use a 6-3, 210-pounder who is strong at both ends of the ice, in their lineup.
Who, exactly, is guaranteed to beat Ambroz out of playing time? Nick Larson? Jake Hansen? Josh Birkholz? Who, I ask? All of this makes me wonder how soon a GM from a Major Junior team will
have Ambroz on the phone. Maybe he won't ever wear the 'M.'
I'm sure Ambroz was looking forward to being a Gopher this fall and facing his brother, Matt, who will be a senior at new WCHA member Nebraska-Omaha this year. Seth Ambroz left New Prague after a terrific freshman season, when he put up 37 goals and 70 points for a Trojans team that was basically one-and-a-half lines deep and lost in OT to Rochester Lourdes in a Section 1A semifinal game. That team also included Darrin Lapic, Schyler Adams and Tyler Lapic, who will be a freshman on the U of Wisconsin team this fall.
The Gophers used to scare teams. There was a time, under Lucia even, when opposing players and fans absolutely hated to see the maroon-and-gold come to their barn. It used to be set in stone that the Gophers would be in the NCAA tournament on an annual basis. The facts, though, are this: The Gophers haven't played an NCAA tournament game the past two seasons. They've played just one WCHA Final Five game in the past two years (a 2-1 loss to Minnesota-Duluth in the 2009 play-in game).
That should be nauseating and unacceptable to Gophers fans.