Two-time defending champions open against Maine

Maine, Michigan, Michigan State, Boston University - those are some of the top-notch nonconference foes the two-time defending national champion Gophers men's hockey team will face in the 2003-2004 season.

Two-time defending champions.

Get used to hearing it whenever Minnesota Gophers hockey is mentioned from now until the end of next season.

And speaking of next season, Gophers players, coaches and fans now have a better idea of what lies ahead for the next season, because the 2003-2004 schedule was recently released.

Those two-time defending champion Golden Gophers open the season Oct. 10 against Maine – the team the Gophers defeated in 2002 to win its first of two consecutive national titles – in the Maverick Stampede hockey tournament in Omaha, Nebraska, where a new arena is being opened.

The Gophers schedule features a number of big non-conference games among the top teams in the country. Minnesota will play at Michigan State in the College Hockey Showcase Nov. 28, and the next night in a game at Michigan, also a part of the Showcase.

The Gophers defeated New Hampshire 5-1 to win their second-straight national title in April, and those two teams will be a part of the four-team Mariucci Classic Dec. 20-21 at Mariucci Arena in Minneapolis. New Hampshire plays Miami (Ohio) in the opening game of the Classic, and Minnesota plays Princeton. If New Hampshire and Minnesota both win, a rematch of that title game that took place April 12 will be in store.

The Gophers will play 38 games in the WCHA, but will not travel to Michigan Tech or St. Cloud State, or host Colorado College or Minnesota State, Mankato because of the WCHA's unbalanced schedule. The Gophers also play an exhibition game against the Latvian National Team Dec. 12 at Mariucci.

Minnesota will also play Boston University Jan. 2-3, CHA member and in-state rival Bemidji State Feb. 6-7, and will close out the season March 5-6 when it hosts St. Cloud State.

The WCHA Final Five is March 18-20 at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.

The Gophers, who are expected to be the preseason No.1 team in the nation, will have to claim their third-straight national title – if the team gets that far, at the Fleet Center in Boston April 10, the site of the 2004 NCAA Frozen Four.

Matt Krumrie covers Gophers hockey for GoldenSports.net. He can be reached at gopherhockeyinsider@yahoo.com

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