See more of the story

One thing is certain when the Gophers men's hockey team opens its season on Saturday at 3M Arena at Mariucci.

With 11 freshmen on the Gophers roster and their opponent — Lindenwood, of St. Charles, Mo. — in its first season of Division I hockey, there will be a lot of players making their Division I debuts.

"We like what we've seen so far," Bob Motzko, who is beginning his fifth season as the Gophers coach, said. "Now we get some games to start putting it together. The early season is like putting a puzzle together."

Among the returning players for the Gophers, who were ranked No. 2 in the preseason Top 25, are a pair of Olympians: junior defenseman Brock Faber and sophomore forward Matthew Knies.

Others returning are senior defensemen Ryan Johnson and Jackson LaCombe, junior defenseman Mike Koster and senior goalie Justen Close. Close took over the starting role last season after Jack LaFontaine signed with Carolina of the NHL midseason.

"Our D corps is very experienced," Motzko said. "That group is rock solid and will anchor us."

Highlighting the newcomers for the Gophers are center Logan Cooley and right wing Jimmy Snuggerud. Cooley and Snuggerud were both taken in the first round of the NHL draft in July.

Lindenwood is coached by Rick Zombo, who played three seasons at the University of North Dakota before playing 12 seasons in the NHL.

Zombo, who played one season for the Austin Mavericks of the USHL before playing for North Dakota, has coached the Lions since 2010. The Lions have won four American Collegiate Hockey Association (ACHA) titles since 2009, including last season.

The Lions will play 28 of their 32 games on the road this season but Zombo said he and his team "are humbled at the fact that we have been given this opportunity. We look forward to playing at Mariucci. It's one of the greatest college hockey arenas. Our players are looking forward to it."

Three Minnesotans are on the Lions' roster — freshman defenseman Joe Prouty (Apple Valley), junior forward Hunter Johannes (Eden Prairie) and freshman forward Shane Lavelle (Chaska). Johannes is a transfer from Division I American International.

After this weekend's series, the Gophers will play third-ranked Minnesota State Mankato and Lindenwood will play at Michigan next week.

Lindenwood facts

Location: St. Charles, Mo.

Founded: 1827. Second-oldest higher education institution west of the Mississippi.

Enrollment: About 7,000.

Note: Lindenwood is the 62nd men's Division I hockey team. Lindenwood's women's hockey team has been Division I since 2011.