There’s no buzz about Gophers hockey any more. Even those who are apathetic about the program are dissatisfied.
People have reason to ask this: “What’s wrong with the Gophers?” A program that once prompted discussion about being the best in the country now isn’t even No. 1 among the state’s college hockey teams.
The Gophers haven’t been in the NCAA tournament the last two years, and before March ends it could be three. Minnesota is 9-8-3 overall, 6-6-2 in the WCHA.
Last weekend the Gophers defeated the US Under-18 team 9-0 in an exhibition game. In two exhibition games this season Minnesota has outscored opponents 15-0, having also defeated British Columbia 6-0 in October.
Those results could be included among highlights during an inconsistent season that has some lows such as the team’s recent Mariucci Classic. Minnesota’s first tournament game was a 3-2 loss to not so well known Union. The next night the Gophers finished in a 2-2 tie with Ferris State and rather than follow tournament policy using a shootout it was decided to leave the game tied.
The second half of the WCHA schedule for coach Don Lucia’s team starts Friday and Saturday night at No. 2 ranked North Dakota. Playing such a good team in perhaps the most difficult of college venues is both a challenge and an opportunity. Minnesota can make a statement against North Dakota and begin momentum toward a better post season performance than the last two years.
That would help calm the critics at home games and in the blogosphere. The former, many of whom are from older generations, tend to be less vocal but it’s not just words but empty seats that make a statement.
Lucia has one season beyond this one remaining on his contract. Criticism and empty seats are something he faces in the months to come. He has won two national championships with the Gophers, but more recent years have brought challenges including keeping elite players from going pro too soon.
That’s a problem, but like any high profile circumstances it’s up to the boss to identify the right answers.