I'm not terribly fond of writing recap pieces, and I'm not in a terribly good mood after watching the Golden Gophers through two very unimpressive games at the North Star College Cup, so I'm not going to recap. Something is clearly wrong, so that's what I want to talk about.
I've identified the symptoms of this hockey team's illness. They will not go to the hard places on the ice, like the front of the other team's net.. They don't win 1-on-1 battles and races. They won't carry the puck into the center of the offensive zone. They haven't played a full sixty minute hockey game since they destroyed Notre Dame early in the year. They're careless with the puck.
Heart. Grit. Determination. Moxy. Swagger. Killer instinct. It.
There are two possibilities: either this team just doesn't have "it," or when the going got tough, they quit.
I guess it's fair to say that the jury is still out on this, but it's one of those two options.
Remember the first four weeks of the season, where this team cruised through the first eight games, basically on autopilot? Sure they played well, but in hindsight, they didn't look like a team that could show up and win games just because they were there. Then, the last two months happened, and they've proven to themselves that they can't just show up and win. This team's NCAA tournament hopes are hanging on by a thread, and yet this lesson appears to not have taken hold.
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NSCC Must Reads
I find it hard to write a piece like this (during the third period against Duluth, their best period of the weekend by far), about young amateur athletes, but frankly I'm at a loss as to what else I can say.
Maybe it comes down to coaching. Has Don Lucia "lost" this team over the course of the last two months? I can't say. I have no personal interaction with the team to use to create an opinion either way. I highly doubt that Lucia and staff draw up a forecheck system with the intention of having the forwards cycle in the corner, make no attempt to move the puck into the slot, and then eventually screw-up a pass along the half wall and accidentally throw the puck to center ice. That can't be a scheme issue.
Now if you want to talk about the coaching staff's inability to get their players to buy-in on the tough parts of the scheme and execute the tough parts of the scheme, namely getting the puck to the slot, I can't deny that the coaching is not effective in this regard.
There's another factor at work here, I suppose, but it's related to the lack of mental toughness we've seen. The Gophers are absolutely snake-bitten. Take for instance, the dominating third period they just played against UMD. In that period, the Bulldogs were only allowed five attempted shots on goal. The first shot that actually made it all the way to Adam Wilcox came nearly 18 minutes into the period, and it happened to be the game-winning goal. In the whole third period, Wilcox only made one save.
In that same period, the Gophers attempted 23 shots, landed 11 of those on goal, including some high-quality scoring chances that came from in the slot. The Gophers lost the game.
Had Minnesota played the entire game the way they played that third period, it's virtually inconceivable that they would lose. But they didn't. Can you say the third period was unlucky? I guess. But we wouldn't be talking about an unlucky third period if the first two had been played with any sort of earnestness. Make your own luck in the first and second, and you won't have to worry about it in the third.
Now, am I exaggerating how bad those first two periods were simply to make my point? Maybe a little. Someone call me out if I'm way off-base here. I don't think I'll have any takers.
The leaders on this team, the senior class that was so celebrated for returning, needs to find a way to get this team to play an entire game, even when things aren't going well. It needed to fixed yesterday, when Minnesota had a chance to get a huge win that could have positioned them for a return to the NCAA tournament. It needed to be fixed today, when Minnesota had a chance to pick up a big win that could have positioned them for a return to the NCAA championship. Now there's virtually no room for error.
The opportunities to fix it are rapidly disappearing. If it doesn't get fixed immediately, we'll soon be talking about the great lost season of 2014-2015.