Minnesota just lost to Yale in the first round of the NCAA tournament, ending the Gophers' season.
This season-ending loss stings harder than most for Gopher fans. This was THE year for Minnesota, who had one of the most dynamic players in the country returning in Nick Bjugstad, as well as stars Erik Haula and Nate Schmidt. They were the #1 team in the country virtually wire-to-wire, leading the nation in total offense and powerplay, while also placing in the top five in total defense and penalty kill. This team had it all.
But they lost 2-0 to Colorado College in the Final Five, and lost 3-2 in overtime to Yale in the NCAA tournament. The back-to-back losses were the Gophers' first of the year.
How could this happen? How could a team that was at the top of the college hockey world nearly all season lose their last two games of the season, when it mattered the most? Pride On Ice Blog breaks it down below:
1) Effort, Effort, Effort
The Gophers showed a tendency all year to "play down" to their opponent. Many times they've let their opponents dictate the style of play, instead of imposing their will. Most of the time, their opponents haven't been hungry enough to overcome the skill advantage that the Gophers had, even if Minnesota was playing at 75%. We saw in the WCHA Final Five and today in the NCAA tournament, that when the opponent has their back to the wall, 75% just doesn't cut it.
These are 18-22 year old kids, and you can't expect the whole team to be humming along at 100% effort in every game all season long. However, the Gophers got used to winning while keeping their foot off the gas, and that culture may have seeped into the team's efforts when push came to shove.
2) Bjugstad did not Dominate
Of all the players Minnesota returned this season, none came with more hype than junior forward Nick Bjugstad. Bjugstad scored 25 goals and 42 points in just 40 games last season as a sophomore, but he took a step back as a junior, tallying 21 goals and 36 points in 40 games as a junior. The preseason All-American and Hobey Baker favorite really didn't come close to meeting those expectations.
There's no question Bjugstad is a good player, a player any other team would love to have, but this season he was not the transformational guy that Minnesota needed.
3) The Gophers didn't have a Superstar
This one piggybacks off of the last one a bit, but still. Minnesota's national championship teams in the early 2000s had superstars that led them to victory in the tournament. This team had good players, but nobody that really "stood out" and put the team on their back.
4) Youth Leads
Despite a trip to the Frozen Four last season, the Gophers were young and relatively inexperienced this season. More and more, we see teams with a bevvy of seniors (like Quinnipiac) leading the nation. Last year's Gopher squad was led by seniors Taylor Matson, Kent Patterson and Jake Hansen. The Gophers had just one senior in Seth Helgeson, and although their juniors were a strong class, Minnesota had to rely on a lot of underclassmen to carry the mail.
At the end of the day, this team just didn't display the desire to win the games they needed to down the stretch. It's too bad, too, since they had (on paper) the right makeup to have a great chance to win.
Coming soon: reasons not to jump off a bridge. I'll give all the reasons I can think of why next year's Gopher squad could have an even better chance to win it all than this year's team did. Once I finish mourning, that is.