Last year I penned a couple of "Thoughts from an Uneducated Hockey Mind" posts where I, a non-hockey fan, but a Gopher fan nonetheless, discussed trying to understand hockey, what I see, what I don't get, etc.
While I haven't been able to watch an entire Gopher hockey game from beginning to end, I have been able to catch pieces of each of the last 4 games vs. BC, Notre Dame and AK-Anchorage.
Those games against BC & The Notre Dames are about as good as it gets. Seriously, as Gopher fans (qualifier: of revenue sports) we don't often get the chance to face the top teams in the country in a situation where we can be competitive and actually win.
First of all, can someone explain to me why we only played The Notre Dames one game and it was on a freaking Tuesday night? That was weird.
One of the things I think I really like about college hockey is that I only need to worry about keeping track of games on the weekend, and now this? But seriously... can someone tell me why that happened?
Now, on to what I really want to talk about, which I believe is a topic I also opined about last season, but I'm not going to bother to go back and read whether I do or not.
Whisky. Tango. Foxtrot. Is going on with this team on Friday nights? I don't get it. You can even sort of look at the Mariucci Classic and see that the woes this team had on Friday nights last year carried over to this season.
Saturday night, the first night of the Mariucci Classic the Gophers beat a pretty bad Air Force team 4-0, but were lackluster through the entire game. Then they come out on Sunday night and slap around Boston College like they should be slapping around teams like Air Force and AK-Anchorage. Amiright?
A week and a half later the Gophers host the Irish on the aforementioned Tuesday night, and they were clearly up and ready for that game because they controlled the flow of that game against a very good team from start to finish.
Three days later they hit their home ice again and nearly lay an egg against a team who has a mascot that doesn't really exist (as far as I can tell a seawolf isn't a real thing except that it might be a band from Southern California), and needed a (questionable?) 5-minute major at the end of regulation in order to tie, and ultimately win, the game.
Saturday night against AA brought the kind of beating that a top-ranked team should hand out against inferior talent.
This team clearly has the talent, the fire-power, and the ability to put the choke hold on the opposing team early... so what is going on? It's almost as if this has become more than a cute little anecdote and has turned into a real problem. Are the Gophers like a boxer who needs to be punched in the mouth before he realizes the severity of the situation and can start playing like a champion?
To the untrained eye (mine), I think coaching is involved here. Hey, let's be clear, I'm not saying Luccia isn't a good coach, or anything like that. But in my opinion, teams take on the personality of their leaders. "Shit rolls down hill," as they say. If the coach is laid back and not instilling a sense of urgency in his team during the week, that is going to carry over to Friday nights. If, on the other hand, the coach is pushing his team to perform, pushing them to realize they have a chance to be special, the team may come out with more fire and urgency.
Perhaps this is how opposing coaches are preparing their teams for the Gophers? Perhaps a "Friday night is our time to shine, our time to beat a championship caliber program" message is being preached?
Or, perhaps I'm over-simplifying it.
The way the college hockey schedule lays out is unique. To my knowledge, no other level of hockey employs a schedule that is nearly exclusively played on the weekend. This means college hockey teams have nearly a week to prepare to play their next opponent, but less than 24 hours to make adjustments between games.
I have to think that coaching plays a huge role in how a college hockey team comes out of the gate.
Which leads to another question...
Why are Saturday nights so much different?
Are there coaching adjustments that happen that an untrained eye like mine aren't able to notice? Or is it simply a situation where the players and their talent rise up after the scare of Friday night?
I'd be very interested to see what others think about this. So please, get your "comment" on.