MINNEAPOLIS — For a few weeks each fall, Minnesotans experience typical Southern California weather — dry, sunny, 75 during the day, 55 at night. On one of those very “SoCal” October days in the Twin Cities, Minnesota Gophers defenseman Brock Faber learned of his likely career future in the land of Hollywood, surf culture, In-N-Out Burger and West Coast hip-hop.
In round two of Wednesday morning’s NHL Draft, the Los Angeles Kings made Faber the 45th overall selection, and the first Gopher picked in 2020. Faber, 18, will begin his first college hockey season next month on the Gophers blue line as one of three freshman defensemen on the roster.
Faber got the word right before the Gophers’ Wednesday practice, and said there was a jubilant but safe celebration with his teammates.
“It was actually pretty socially distant. We all had our masks on,” Faber said, in a Zoom call with the media. “There was clapping, everyone was yelling and screaming and everyone came and congratulated me. It was awesome.”
Originally from Maple Grove, Minn., he spent the last two seasons skating with USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program in Michigan. He was originally committed to Notre Dame, but reconsidered his options and chose to stay closer to home. His former USA Hockey coach said Faber is known as a shutdown defenseman that frustrates skilled opponents.
“He absolutely eats up opposing teams’ top lines,” said Seth Appert, now the head coach of the Buffalo Sabres’ top development team. “Brock gets the hard assignments. He’s miserable to play against, and he loves it.”
Potential future Gophers defenseman Jake Boltmann was selected later on Wednesday. Boltmann, who is from Edina, Minn., went 80th overall to the Calgary Flames. He is with the Lincoln Stars of the USHL currently. Boltmann was on the ice practicing with his team, with the draft playing on their arena's video screen, when he got the news.
"Initially the coach started yelling at the other end of the rink, and I thought that he was mad at us about something. I thought he was actually going to start skating us," said Boltmann, admitting he's never been west of Winnipeg in Canada. "Next thing I know I look at the JumboTron and it said my name and 'Calgary' and the pick and all my teammates started tackling me."
Jake Ratzlaff, a forward from Rosemount, Minn., was eligible but went undrafted, likely due to his uncertain athletic future. He is committed to play hockey for the Gophers and will skate for Green Bay in the USHL later this winter, but Ratzlaff also has offers to play linebacker for Minnesota and Wisconsin, and has not yet made a final decision between hockey and football.
Faber has never been to the Golden State, but with two players from Southern California on the current Gophers roster, he has already received some friendly advice about the good and bad of life on the Left Coast
“I told Brock, ‘you’d better enjoy this weather, because you’ll be seeing a lot of it,’” joked Gophers teammate Brannon McManus, who hails from the Los Angeles suburb of Newport Beach. McManus also offered a warning about the notorious freeway gridlock there. “People kind of complain about traffic here sometimes, and you have no clue. (In California) you have to be prepared to be in a car for two hours to go 20 miles. It’s insanity.”
On Tuesday evening, the draft’s first round saw two Gophers rivals from the Big Ten selected in the first 31 picks. Wisconsin sophomore forward Dylan Holloway, who had 17 points in 35 games as a college hockey rookie, went 14th overall to the Edmonton Oilers. With the 29th pick, the Vegas Golden Knights grabbed Michigan freshman forward Brendan Brisson.
Starting in 1974, at least one Gopher has been selected in 46 of the last 47 NHL Drafts. The lone exception was 2001, when no Gophers were picked. A school-record, seven Gophers were selected in the 2007 draft. The most recent Gopher picked in round one came in 2019, when defenseman Ryan Johnson went 31st overall to the Buffalo Sabres.