That. Just. Happened.
The Minnesota Golden Gophers, one of the top two teams in college hockey all season long, will not be winning the National Championship. Or even one NCAA tourney game. For the second week in a row the Gophers failed to bring anything close to their A game, and the opposition treated them accordingly. Last week they were knocked out of the Final Five, today an opportunistic Yale squad bounced them from the NCAA tourney and ended Minnesota's season 3-2 in OT. The Gophers had better effort than last week (I realize that's not saying much, but still), but had trouble executing on offense all night long, and Yale made them pay for a few key mistakes.
All three Bulldogs goals came off Minnesota turnovers, two on odd-man rushes, and the game winner on an awful turnover by Ben Marshall in his own end just nine seconds into overtime. It was eerily similar to last week's loss to CC as Minnesota controlled the puck most of the game but couldn't get many good shots, and when they did they missed, and yet their opponent had zero problems capitalizing on their few chances. The Bulldogs' first goal was a 2-on-1 where Kenny Agostino had all day- seriously he could have stopped to tie his skates, balanced his checkbook (if people still do such a thing), download an app- and then fired a wrister top-shelf stick side. Their second goal was on the power play when again Minnesota allowed an odd man rush. A trailing Gus Young picked up a loose puck and scored on a deflection and screen that goalie Adam Wilcox had no chance on. To start OT, Marshall skates back behind his own goal, tries to pass the puck off the boards to a teammate but fans on it, Agnostino takes it and fires a pass from behind the net to Jessie Root, who buried it for the game winner.
Three great chances, three goals for Yale. Minnesota had more than that and could muster just two third period goals. Yale seemed well prepared to defend the nation's best power play as they clogged the shooting and passing lanes, letting Minnesota move the puck around the perimeter, but wouldn't allow that killer cross-ice pass to somebody like Nick Bjugstad off the far post, or up top to Nate Schmidt for one of his howitzer slap shots. They also seemed to have one guy cheat to Bjuggy's side whenever he was on that left wing, not allowing the one-timer opportunities or giving him much room. They also sold out to block shots at every opportunity and it worked far too well, as it was a rare Gopher shot that found its way cleanly to the net.
Marshall's turnover was a bad one, but he didn't lose the game, the entire team and coaching staff did, and it's going to be a LONG offseason trying to figure out how a team with this much talent finished the season 0-2 and didn't even make the regional final. It was disappointing, but any Gopher fan that watched this team all year cannot say they were shocked by this result. This was a team with all the talent in the world, yet they really struggled to put together two good games in a row for most of the season (with the exception of their Christmas break run which included wins over BC and Notre Dame) sweeping just two WCHA opponents all year. They played just barely well enough to beat BSU to end the season and start the playoffs, then dropped their last two games of the season. Really, perhaps we should have been more surprised if things hadn't turned out this way.
We have a long freaking off-season to talk more about this, but for now, the Gophers are out and the season is done. The most talented team Minnesota has had in years failed to not only win the National Championship or make the Frozen Four, they couldn't even get out of the first round, and now they stand to lose a good chunk of that talent to the pros. This was not how we planned to end Minnesota's last-ever season in the WCHA, and it's not how it should have ended, but end it did, in disappointing, and yet not surprising, fashion. It's going to take awhile to get over this one.