Saturday, March 31, 2018

Lucia Out, Motzko In as New Era of Gopher Hockey Begins

Don Lucia is out as head coach of the University of Minnesota hockey team.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Don Lucia may have Coached his Last Game as a Gopher, and that's a Shame.

As the postseason starts without the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers making the NCAA Tournament (the Gophers lost out to UMD by .0001 in the RPI), the hot-button issue on all Minnesota fans' minds is whether head coach Don Lucia will be back next season for the Maroon and Gold.

It seems like a foregone conclusion at this point that Lucia will not be welcomed back behind the Gopher bench in 2018-2019.  This Gopher team missed the NCAA Tournament after beginning the season ranked #3 overall, returning first team All-American Tyler Sheehy, two-time Big Ten Goaltender of the Year Eric Schierhorn, and adding all-world freshman Casey Mittelstadt.  They sure seemed like they had the pieces to make a run at a national title this season, but they'll be watching from home over the next few weeks as 16 other teams fight for the trophy.

I do think that it's time for a change - the Gophers have missed the tournament twice in the last three years and have only made it out of the first round twice since they lost to North Dakota in OT on the Chris Porter wraparound in 2007 (that's two first round NCAA wins in the last 11 years in case you were playing along at home).  Those results simply are not acceptable for Gopher Hockey, and while I don't think it's fair to lay all of that at the feet of Don Lucia, he certainly needs to bear some responsibility for those results.

Coaches also have shelf lives, and I think Lucia's shelf life and his message have just gotten stale, or are falling on players differently than they did 15 years ago.

All that said, it will still be a shame if / when the team takes the ice in October and Don Lucia is not behind the bench.  This is a man who has won the most games behind the Gopher bench than anyone else (438), and for a program as storied as the University of Minnesota, one of only two coaches to have ever won the NCAA title.  Lucia's teams play an entertaining high-octane style, his kids don't get into trouble, and he has a great record on the academics side as well.

Like I said, I think it's time for a change, but I'll be a little sad to not see Lucia out there coaching the team if indeed someone else takes over at the helm next season.

To Don Lucia, thank you for many wonderful years and amazing moments in Gopher hockey history.  If this was your last year, you didn't go out the way you deserved to.  Let's hope whomever is the next head coach can get us back to the top of the mountain again.

Go Gophers!

Friday, March 2, 2018

Woeful Gophers Lose Again to Penn State in B1G Tourney Opener

Two Last-Minute Second Period Goals Too Much for Maroon and Gold

State College, PA - The home team was once again jovial in Happy Valley.  For Gopher fans, the last three games have been more like the Valley of the Shadow of Death.

Penn State once again outplayed, outmanned and, most importantly, outscored the Gophers, beating them 5-3 on the strength of a pair of goals in the final 71 seconds of the middle period.  The win was the Nittany Lions' third straight over Minnesota in just the last 8 days, putting the Gophers on the brink of elimination in the Big Ten conference tournament and inching them ever closer away from the safety of the middle of the PairWise pack and towards the bubble.

Minnesota (19-16-2 Overall, 10-13-2 B1G) got a big performance from Casey Mittelstadt, who scored the game's opening goal (the first of his two on the night) on the powerplay at 11:13 of the first.  Penn State (17-13-5, 10-10-5) responded at 15:39 on Cole Hults' PP tally to tie the game at 1-1.

The Gophers' Darian Romanko took a 5-minute major with 1:35 left in the first, putting Penn State on a 5-minute power play that flowed into the second.  PSU's Nate Sucese scored toward the tail-end of that man-advantage, putting the Nittany Lions ahead at 2:35 of the second.  Scott Reedy tied the game on a nice pass from behind the net from Rem Pitlick at 15:13, but Penn State struck twice with under two minutes left in the middle stanza, once on a soft bad-angle shot by Dennis Smirnov with 1:11 remaining in the second and again on a bad defensive play resulting in a two-on-one by Andrew Sturtz with just fifteen seconds left.

The goals were deflating, but the Gophers made things slightly more interesting before the end.  Tyler Sheehy drew a five-minute major at 10:17 of the third for contact to the head (but was somehow also called for embellishment on the play), and Casey Mittelstadt scored his second of the game and 10th of the season with 5 minutes to go to pull Minnesota within one.  The Gophers drew another powerplay on a nice Brent Gates rush just 33 seconds after the Mittelstadt goal, but the Minnesota power play, which had already scored twice on the night, regressed to its awful mean, and Penn State scored with Mat Robson pulled for an extra attacker to salt the game away at 5-3.

Robson drew the loss on the night, and for the second straight start against these Nittany Lions has looked human.  It's hard to fault Robson for most of the goals tonight, but I'm sure he'd like to have the Smirnov one back.  It will be interesting to see if Gopher coach Don Lucia goes with Eric Schierhorn, firmly ensconced in the doghouse but not a loser of three straight against this PSU squad.

Coming into the night, the Gophers were something like 100% to make the tournament by winning at least one game this weekend, and 97% to make it if they were swept again.  Lots of other crazy things would need to happen in college hockey for this team to miss the tournament at this point, but it sure would be nice for the Gophers to play like it mattered and win a game against a team they should be better than.

Minnesota has a chance to even the series Saturday.  The puck drops at 6PM Central time and can be seen on FSN+, streamed on BTN2Go, and heard on AM1130.

Go Gophers!

Saturday, February 24, 2018

2018 Big Ten Tournament Playoff Scenarios

Entering the final day of the regular season, the Gophers still don't know whether they'll be home or away for the first round of the Big Ten tournament.  Because the Gophers are 13-5-1 at home and 4-9-1 on the road, it'd probably be good if they could have home ice for the first round.

The scenarios for who the Gophers could play are below:
  • If Minnesota loses to Penn State Saturday, they play Penn State at Penn State next weekend in the first round of the conference tournament.
  • If Wisconsin does not win Saturday against Ohio State, they'll lock in sixth place and will play Michigan.  Wisconsin can move into fifth place with a win and a PSU regulation loss.  In this scenario, Wisconsin would travel to Mariucci to take on the Gophers in the first round.
  • If Minnesota gets at least one point Saturday, they will play at Mariucci for the first round of the B1G Tourney and could end up playing either Penn State (with any number of points or with a Wisconsin loss/tie), or Wisconsin (UW win + PSU loss).