Mick Berge has heard all about the University of Minnesota’s freshman hockey players.

At this point, few in the college hockey community haven’t.

Phil Kessel, Blake Wheeler, Ryan Stoa, Jeff Frazee, R.J. Anderson, Justin Bostrom. The group has been hailed as the No. 1 recruiting class in the country.

“Their freshmen are really good,” said Berge, a freshman forward for Minnesota State. “But we just have to go out and outwork them.”

Berge and the Mavericks will get a chance to do that today and Saturday when they open the Western Collegiate Hockey Association season against the Gophers, the league’s preseason favorite.

Minnesota State’s freshmen aren’t as high on the recruiting rankings as rookies from Minnesota, North Dakota and Minnesota Duluth are.

But that’s just fine, Mavericks coach Troy Jutting said. Not counting two rookie goalies who are in competition for the No. 1 job, none is under pressure to make a major impact this season.

“Our freshmen can be freshmen this year,” Jutting said. “They don’t have to be the go-to guy.”

Berge could end up being the exception, however.

He was the only freshman forward to skate in last weekend’s season-opening series at Bemidji State, he’s getting a shot on one of the power play units and he’s been lined up with some of the Mavericks’ most-skilled veterans in games and practices.

“He’s going to be a very good hockey player in this league,” Jutting said. “But, as with 99 percent of all freshmen, there’s going to be an adjustment period.”

Berge is a rare rink rat from Oklahoma City.

His dad, Mark Berge, played for North Dakota from 1976 to 1981 and later moved to Oklahoma where Mick was born.

Mick skated at a rink located about five minutes from the family home. And when the arena was about to be shut down, his dad took over its operations for a few years.

Mick had keys to the rink and used the ice whenever he wanted.

“I used to go skate at 2 in the morning,” he said. “I skated whenever I could. I loved going out there by myself. There was nothing better to do back home.”

Berge, 20, played a year of midget hockey in Dallas and spent the last three seasons with the Lincoln Stars of the United States Hockey League. That included one year with MSU captain David Backes as a teammate. Last year, Berge scored 13 goals and set up 44 others for the Stars, ranking third in the USHL in assists.

“When I was younger I wanted to (play at North Dakota),” Berge said about his dad’s alma mater. “Later, I just wanted to play in the WCHA. Now, my main goal is to beat North Dakota and Minnesota.”

Last week at Bemidji State, the 5-foot-10, 175-pound Berge centered a line with sophomores Ryan Carter and Austin Sutter.

“Mick will be pressed into it a little more,” Jutting said.

Blake Friesen, a 6-2, 190-pound defenseman from the USHL’s Sioux Falls Stampede, played in his first game Saturday at Bemidji.

Jutting said that freshman Kevin Huck, a 6-0, 185-pound forward who had 24 goals and 78 points in the North American Hockey League last season, could see his first action of the season against the Gophers.

Waiting in the wings are freshman forward Jon Kalinski and rookie defenseman Brian Kilburg.

But Jutting continues to insist that the Mavericks will be relying on their veterans this season, and that most coaches preach the same philosophy.

“I think (Minnesota) has got some very good older players, too,” he said. “Every fan wants to know who the new guys are. To coaches, the new guys are nice. But you win with your old guys.”

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