Tuesday, January 5, 2010

A Decade On The Ice.....

The decade of the 2000s has been one of the most successful in Gopher hockey history. Consider the following statistics:
  • The team won 60% of its games
  • Captured two regular season WCHA (MacNaughton Cup) titles
  • Won three WCHA Post-Season Tournament (Broadmoor Trophy) titles
  • Qualified for the NCAA Tournament eight times (consecutively from 2000-01 through 2007-08)
  • Won two national titles (2002 and 2003)
Although the decade began and ended with uncertainty and disappointment, it was certainly one of the must prolific in the history of the Gopher hockey program.

The decade began with Don Lucia's second season and the Gophers rebounded with a return to the NCAA Tournament following three consecutive seasons on the outside looking in, which cost Doug Woog his job after the 1998-99 season. The Gophers were loaded with talent, but blew a late lead in the tournament against Maine and lost quickly in OT to end the decade's first season.

The 2001-02 season saw the Gophers return a ton of talent, including seniors Jordan Leopold, Johnny Pohl and Adam Hauser, along with talented players such as Jeff Taffe, Troy Riddle, Grant Potulny, Paul Martin, and Keith Ballard. Leopold captured the Hobey Baker Trophy, and Minnesota rolled to a 32-8-4 record, capped by overtime victories in both games of the Frozen Four, which took place in St. Paul. Minnesota tied the title game in the final minute of regulation on a goal by Matt Koalska, and won it in OT on a power play goal by Potulny. The 22-season drought ended in dramatic fashion on the Xcel Energy Center ice.

The 2002-03 team lost the big three seniors, but the already talented group was joined by super-freshman Thomas Vanek (31-31-62 on the season) to create an embarrassment of riches for the Gophers. A 28-8-9 mark saw the Gophers capture the WCHA Tournament title and a second-consecutive championship in Buffalo, led by Vanek as the tournament MVP. Sophomore goaltenders Travis Weber and Justin Johnson backstopped the Gophers to consecutive titles; the first since Boston University turned the trick 30 years prior.

Weber left the team after the 2003 title, but freshman goaltender Kellen Briggs joined the fray and the Gophers didn't miss much of a beat. Although the record wasn't as good as previous years (27-14-3), the Gophers won a second-consecutive WCHA Tourney title, only to lose to UMD in the regional finals. Briggs carried the team in 2004-05, and young forwards Tyler Hirsch, Danny Irmen, and Ryan Potulny paced the offense. The Gophers once again made a Frozen Four appearance in Columbus, but were defeated by North Dakota in the semi-final game.

The 2005-06 season saw the Gophers struggle early, only to close with an eleven-game unbeaten streak in regular season play to capture a regular season league title. However, the Gophers lost a thrilling 8-7 OT game to St. Cloud State in the WCHA Final Five semis, and dropped the meaningless third place game the next day. Despite the poor showing in the league tourney, the Gophers were the NCAA Tournament's #1 overall seed in Grand Forks, but lost to a small private school in Massachusetts in a shocking upset. Trust me, Sioux fans remember this one more than Gopher fans (Quick Question: Who won the NCAA Tournament in 2006? Hint: It wasn't North Dakota).

In 2006-07, the Gophers had tons of talent, including #1 overall draft pick Erik Johnson, along with fellow first-rounders Kyle Okposo, Blake Wheeler, and David Fischer, and put up some big numbers all season long. The Gophers won the WCHA league and tournament titles, thanks to an incredible OT goal by Wheeler, only to lose to North Dakota in the NCAA Tournament semis.

The Gophers would go on to make one more NCAA Tourney appearance in the decade, losing to eventual champion Boston College in 2007, but would close the decade with back-to-back second-division finishes in the WCHA and would miss the Tournament for the first time since 1999-2000. Coach Lucia begins the new decade on a bit of a hot seat as his talented team struggles for consistency.

Despite the inconsistency to open and close the decade, the 2000s will be forever remembered by the two titles won and the plethora of talented players who graced the Mariucci Arena ice.

1 comment:

  1. It will be great to watch Minnesota Golden Gophers, i have bought tickets from
    http://ticketfront.com/event/Minnesota_Golden_Gophers-tickets looking forward to it.