Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Pucksters: They're Done

The Gophers completed their series with North Dakota on January 16 with a 5-1 victory at Mariucci Arena. The victory gave them three of four points against the Sioux and put the Gophers back on the map for an at-large NCAA Tournament bid. The balance of the season featured some tough series, but the Gophers appeared to be hitting their stride.

Instead, the Gophers were swept in a home-and-home series against St. Cloud State, and then split up at Alaska-Anchorage. After a bye week, Minny was throttled at Denver and appears buried in the second division of the WCHA standings. With six games remaining in the season and the team finding itself seven points out of home ice for the first round of the WCHA playoffs, it's safe to say they're done this season.

When the Gophers had a chance to make a run on a season already marked by inconsistency, the team responded with a 1-5 mark in three crucial series and is now fighting to stay out of ninth place. They had opportunities over the past two weeks to move past North Dakota (another disappointing team) into sixth place, but failed to accomplish this task. UND's thrashing of St. Cloud State on Saturday put the Sioux three points ahead of the Gophers in the standings, making it unlikely they can be passed.

Of course, that the Gophers find themselves in seventh place at all is disappointing in and among itself. At the start of the season, it was clear with the returning roster that the Gophers would be one of the teams to beat in the WCHA. The season started out on a rough note against North Dakota and Denver (three shutouts in two weekends) and has never really gotten on track. An 8-2-1 run from November 28 to January 16 gave the season some promise, but ended in spectacular fashion with the team's current 1-5 predicament.

The Gophers have netted the third-fewest goals among WCHA teams and rank 44th of 58 Division I teams in goals per game. With the talent on this roster, this is unacceptable. The goaltending of Alex Kangas and Kent Patterson has been decent most of the season and is a big reason why the season hasn't been an even bigger disaster. Team defense has been suspect all season long and turnovers have been epidemic. The issues have not corrected themselves as the season progresses.

Wild Assistant GM Tom Thompson remarked last weekend that the Gophers lack passion. I jumped to the team's defense by basically attacking the messenger, whose team has its own passion problems. However, Thompson may be onto something is suggesting that effort may be an issue for the team this season. I simply refuse to accept the notion that Minnesota lacks the talent to compete with the big boys of the WCHA. They get all-star recruiting classes each season and will add another good class for the upcoming season, so talent is never an issue. However, they are clearly not a good TEAM, which is something beyond talent.

The season has seemingly slipped away with the current 1-5 run, and the Gophers will need a miracle to extend their season beyond the WCHA first round playoffs. It has been a monumentally disappointing season for the maroon and gold and few - if any - expected things to be this way.

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