Monday, March 19, 2012

Gopher Gab

By Jason Rossow

For the first time since 2008, the evil empire of college hockey is going dancing. What Gopher team that shows up next weekend is anyone’s guess after what took place on Friday night.

The McNaughton Cup Champs (regular season WCHA title) were destroying their arch rival North Dakota in front of 17,000 strong at Xcel Center, outshooting the green guys 23-4, and outscoring them 3-0. Then, UND used a timeout with around five minutes to go in the 2nd period and the momentum switched, resulting in a 6-0 scoring route over the final 25 minutes.  I’ve never seen anything quite like it. UND went on to beat a worn out Denver squad on Saturday, claiming the postseason conference title for the third consecutive year and giving them the No. 1 seed in the Western Region of the NCAA’s.

Of course, the Western Region of the WCHA is being hosted BY Minnesota at the Xcel Center. The Gophers, now ranked 8th nationally in the Pairwise and No. 2 in the Western Region, take on No. 3 seed Boston Saturday night. The winner will play Sunday vs. the winner of the UND/Western Michigan. The winner of Sunday’s matchup earns a trip to the Frozen 4 in hockey mecca Tampa Bay (note the sarcasm). 

Year in and year out, Boston is one of the top teams in the nation, and will certainly test the Gophers. They are lead by captain Chris Connelly, a Senior from Duluth, MN. Their head coach, Jack Parker, has been in his role since 1973, and ranks 3rd all-time in NCAA hockey victories. The Gophers are a very young team, and in their first big-time atmosphere game of the season, were crushing the Sioux before suffering a Glen Mason-like meltdown. It leaves us Maroon & Gold faithful completely clueless as to which team will show up next weekend.  The hockey gods would certainly be hoping for a Gopher/UND rematch, which would be their sixth meeting of the year (Gophers lead just 3-2 after the debacle). In a regional niche sport like college hockey, a Gopher/Sioux game at the Xcel Center is about is good as it gets.  You’re lucky if you get that game once every five years, and this year they could do it back-to-back weekends (of course, they were the "Sioux" last weekend, and will now be nameless as no Sioux logo can be worn during the tournament.)

Don Lucia’s Gopher teams won National titles in 2002 and 2003. In 2004 lost they lost in the second round, and in 2005 they lost in the Frozen 4. Since 2005, the Gophers have been a non-factor in the NCAA’s. Having the No. 1 overall seed, they suffered the biggest upset in college hockey history in 2006 losing to Holy Cross. In 2007, they had a No. 1 seed and lost in the second round. In 2008, they got beat in a non-competitive game vs. Boston College, and have failed to qualify at all the past three years.Thankfully, the Gophers open up on Saturday night instead of Friday. They are just 6-9 in their past 15 Friday night games this year, and 15-3-1 on Saturdays.

IF Kent Patterson (WCHA Goalie of the year) plays well, and the Gophers of the first 35 minutes of last Friday show up, they will be the team to beat coming out of the Western Region. If any glimpses of the 3rd period Gophers show up this weekend, they will be sent packing pre-Frozen 4 for the seventh consecutive year, which AGAIN will put Don Lucia on the hot seat despite winning the WCHA this year.

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