A Gopher hockey season that had looked so promising just a week ago went down in flames this weekend on home ice as Alaska-Anchorage swept Minnesota out of the WCHA playoffs. To quote Ricky Bobby "That. Just. Happened." The Gophers lost 4-3 Friday night after trailing 3-0 after one period, and last night couldn't even muster a goal, losing 2-0.
Reading the comment sections of the Strib and Gopher Puck Live and some other blogs, Gopher hockey fans are angry, and they have a right to be. This is the one team in the State- pro or college- that has a right to be upset when they don't win, and win a lot. This is the one team that is SUPPOSED to be Goliath, a juggernaut, a super power. Gopher hockey is the New York Yankees or Duke Blue Devils or Ohio State or Alabama football of the hockey world. The expectations here are to win the WCHA and make the Frozen Four every year. This became the third straight season they won't even make the NCAA tournament. Can you imagine if Duke basketball missed the NCAA tourney three straight years? If the Ohio State Buckeyes didn't make a bowl game for three years? If the New York Yankees missed the playoffs three years in a row? Needless to say, it would not be tolerated, and it shouldn't be here either.
Gopher hockey fans are upset, and despite some promising play the past month, fans still didn't believe in this team enough to even sell out Mariucci this weekend. Remember when a Gopher hockey ticket was the toughest in town to get? Not anymore. Ryan Oftos from GPL sums it up well:
There are 18 suites at Mariucci Arena. 7 Of them were empty tonight. The announced attendance was over nine thousand, but in reality was much, much lower. The arena itself is stale in appearance and the atmosphere can, quite frankly, not get much worse, especially when the Gophers are lacking any offensive chances.
Not just empty seats, but empty suites for a playoff game. And it should be noted that the fan apathy- or whatever you want to call it- towards the program right now was justified by their play this weekend. Would you want to pay to watch the Yankees of College Hockey not show up for the first period of Friday night's game? Would you want to pay watch them get shutout and outshot 25-24 last night?
It was pathetic, and it should be unacceptable. This shouldn't happen to a team this talented- and if you look at the recruiting rankings every year, there's no doubt it's talented. This shouldn't happen to the New York Yankees of college hockey. We shouldn't have to deal with the annoying Sioux trolls laughing at us on Gopher websites. I don't blame the players. Maybe I should, but I didn't think they quit this weekend- they just looked unprepared. Unprepared for an opponent Minnesota had played twice already, and lost to once, so the strategy they would see from UAA would be pretty clear, yet the Gophers still looked helpless to stop it or respond appropriately. They were out-coached in three of the four meetings with the Seawolves this year, and that shouldn't happen, but it did.
We've heard plenty of excuses, and plenty of reasons, for why this program has fallen so far, so fast, yet sitting here this morning, I believe that's all they are: excuses. From everything I've seen and read about head coach Don Lucia, I like the guy and I want him to succeed, but I think it's time to say this isn't working, and it's clearly not going to work. We should be forever grateful to The Don for his back-to-back national titles, but since that time the program has been trending down, to the point this weekend where mighty Minnesota was swept out of the first round of the conference playoffs by an inferior opponent.
For me, this is bigger than the coach. In Gopher football posts I've been saying for awhile we need a new athletic director. As much as I appreciate Joel Maturi for getting a new Gopher football stadium, and for things like the new radio agreements, he'd be better off as a high school or small college AD. Nice guy, wants everybody to be happy, but he's not a big time, D1 athletic director, because a big time D1 athletic director would not let his Big 3 revenue programs fall as far as fast as Maturi has. It's bad enough we've had to watch what's happened to the football and basketball programs under his watch, but having to watch how far and how fast Gopher hockey has fallen should be the final straw.
As Oftos noted in his game recap, and as we mentioned here in our "What's Wrong with Gopher Hockey?" posts from a couple of months ago, this is the worst stretch for Gopher hockey since Glen Sonmor in the early 1970's. No NCAA tourney for three straight years, no WCHA regular season title for four years, and they're hosting the Final Five in St Paul next weekend and the Gophers won't even be there.
This four season stretch wouldn't stand in New York with the Yankees, in Durham with the Blue Devils, in Columbus with the Buckeyes or Tuscaloosa with the Crimson Tide. And it shouldn't happen here. Gopher hockey needs to return to greatness, and we don't have the people in charge to make that happen. We've had four years of excuses, but we need is results. Time for a change.