Yet another winter where our poor Gophers get bullied by those mean programs like St. Cloud and Duluth. And you know we can only hope for a tie when Wisconsin, North Dakota, and Denver roll in. And I don’t know about you but I want no part of Bemidji joining the conference next year. Poor Gophers. Poor Don Lucia.
“Boy that (Ben) Marshall kid can play for Mahtomedi. This kids a junior and has already committed to play for the Gophers. Why you’d want to commit to the fourth or fifth best program in the state so early, I don’t know.”
Pat Reusse on his KSTP show last Wednesday.
The Gophers lost in their first round WCHA playoff series over the weekend to North Dakota. Minnesota (18-19-2) had advanced to the Final Five the past 11 consecutive years and had won its opening WCHA playoff series in 31 of the past 32 years.
The Xcel Energy Center and the city of St. Paul would like to thank the local club for not advancing in the playoffs. Less traffic means less hectic arm waving for the local traffic police. Also the Cosetta’s staff can have a little easier of a weekend for once.
In this past decade the hockey program has morphed from WCHA powerhouse, to back-to-back National Champions, to very good team upset in the national tournament, to underachieving squad whose talent finds a way to make the tournament, to underachieving squad who finds a way to make it in the WCHA final five, to underachieving squad.
For those of you scoring at home, at this pace the Gophers will be an underachieving team in the MIAC by 2017.
I hear the rubes out there. It certainly isn’t easy when players like Thomas Vanek, Erik Johnson and Phil Kessel leave early in their promising collegiate careers. It’s hard to keep momentum going.
But lets not act like Denver, Wisco, Michigan, Michigan State, Boston College and Boston University don’t face the same adversity. North Dakota should still have players Zach Parise and Jonathan Toews, two players who excelled at the Vancouver Olympics. This of course is the same North Dakota team that beat the Gophers over the weekend, for the record.
As a quick background I do not like Don Lucia, I was raised under Doug Woog teams damnit and I still love that confused, little man. My father had season tickets while I was growing up so the Gopher hockey team really was my team up until they won their national championships. It had more to do with my growing social life as I got older more than anything. So it really does bother me to see the program go down the tubes.
My problem with the program isn’t that the upper-echelon players are leaving early, it’s players like the Islanders’ Kyle Okposo leaving the team in the middle of the season because New York’s general manager, Garth Snow, thinks he’s regressing as a player. Or when Wild g.m. Chuck Fletcher trades last year’s first-round pick Nick Leddy so eagerly. You know a local g.m. is concerned when he trades a local player. Here are a few names of forwards and point totals that should remind you of Gopher improvement.
Barry Tallackson: 23pts in 44 games as freshman in 01-02, 19pts in 36 games as a senior.
Gino Guyer: 29pts in 41 games as a freshman in 02-03, 14pts in 41 games as a senior.
Ben Gordon: 29pts as a sophomore in 05-06, 29pts in 45 games as a senior.
Blake Wheeler: 23pts in 39 games as freshman in 05-06, 35pts in 44 games as a junior.
Ryan Flynn: 13pts in 43 games as a freshman, 10pts in 38 games this season.
Tony Lucia: 19pts in 43 games as a freshman, 28pts in 39 games this season.
Mike Carman 20pts in 41 games as a freshman, 18pts in 39 games this season.
All these players were called on to be offensive leaders. I only showed Wheeler’s numbers because he led the team two years ago in points, but he’s a superstar compared to team leader Lucia’s numbers this season. I don’t want to compare the two completely because they’re two different types of players but my point is when the coach is counting on his son to shoulder the load on offense you’re in trouble before the season even starts.
That’s not to say Tony Lucia is a bad player but he needs to be your number four or five option on a true contender.
I understand that some players aren’t asked to be team leaders in points (Aaron Ness) and some get hurt (Jay Barriball), but when your top players who do actually stay more than one year don’t continue to improve that’s a sign of poor leadership all the way.
Let’s also not let Jordan Schroeder off the hook either, he scored 17 fewer points this season while playing two more games. Schroeder I doubt will be back after being the best player for team USA at the Junior World Hockey Championships this last winter, besides it’s not like he improved in the college ranks.
Another all-star quality recruiting class is apparently coming in for the Gophers. If they don’t hit the jackpot with this bunch it’s got to be Lucia’s job that goes and not another NHL bound player. Personally I’d make sure Joel Maturi got canned as well because let’s not act like this University’s athletics are setting the world on fire.
I wish I had more answers but I’m still fairly frustrated with the program as well as not exactly sure what the exact problem is. Unfortunately neither does anyone on the team, in the athletic department, at the school, in the media, or sitting at home. Right now Denver, Colorado College, North Dakota, Bemidji, Duluth, St. Cloud and Wisconsin have a better program, a better plan and a brighter future than us. “Minnesota’s Pride on Ice.” What a crock.