After entering 2014 as the No. 1 team in the nation, the Minnesota men’s hockey team took a hit in their own holiday tournament. The weekend will go as a tie and a win in the team’s overall record, but the play on the ice did not meet expectations.
With a Friday night matchup against Colgate University, Minnesota should have easily dispatched the middle of the pack team from the Eastern Collegiate Athletic Conference. It was obvious that the Maroon and Gold were already eyeing a Mariucci Classic championship game against No. 2 ranked Ferris State on Saturday.
The Bulldogs of Ferris State did their part earlier in the afternoon against Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, but the Gophers did not hold up their end of the bargain.
The Gophers were flat out of the gate and the long holiday break looked to have taken its toll on the team. Minnesota would strike first with an unassisted goal by Michael Brodzinski, but Colgate would answer twice in the second period to take the lead heading into the final frame.
Colgate’s second goal was off a costly turnover by the Minnesota defense. Goaltender Adam Wilcox could do little against the 2-0 rush barreling down on him. Turnovers and other mental mistakes by the Gophers plagued them all night and they did not look like the best team in the country.
A problem that has been a thorn in the side of the Minnesota coaching staff has been their special teams play. Ranking in the bottom-third nationally, Minnesota would go 1-of-5 in both games on the weekend on the power play. Their extra-attacker goal in the third period on Friday would tie the game at 2-2 and eventually send the team into a shootout.
Shootouts have been troublesome for the Gophers to this point of the season and nothing changed over the weekend. Minnesota’s only scorer in the shootout was junior captain Kyle Rau, who recorded point No. 100 as a Gopher on the game-tying goal with an assist.
Colgate’s shootout win would send them to the Mariucci Classic championship against Ferris State — robbing Gophers fans for a chance to watch the top two teams in the country play in front of them.
Because of television coverage from the Big Ten Network, Minnesota was going to play at 7 p.m. on Saturday no matter what. That meant that the holiday tournament championship would have to be an afternoon faceoff with the third place game, including the Gophers, to follow.
Talk about a lackluster finish. It showed in the stands on Saturday. A fairly sparse crowd for Minnesota’s game against R.P.I. was two-fold in part to the tie/shootout loss on Friday and near sub-zero temperatures locally in Minneapolis.
Minnesota was without three members of their team on Friday, including head coach Don Lucia as he was still coming back from Malmo, Sweden with Hudson Fasching and Brady Skjei from the World Junior Championships. It’s hard to say that those two players and your head coach were the reason Minnesota couldn’t get past Colgate, but I doubt that would have given the team the spark they needed to be successful.
The trio returned in time for the third place game on Saturday, but that did not fix all the team’s woes. Minnesota would give up a shorthanded goal to the Engineers in the opening period and it looked like the Gophers were in for another rocky night at home.
Lucia and his team would eventually finish off Rensselaer by a final score of 6-2 to move to 13-2-3 overall on the year. Rau would get two goals in the game and continues to be the strongest player on the ice for Minnesota. The Eden Prairie native is second on the team in scoring and has 102 career points in 98 career games.
When the next set of polls come out on Monday, Minnesota may stay in the pole position as No. 2 Ferris State was shutout by the Colgate Raiders in the Mariucci Classic title game. St. Cloud State, who sits third in the USCHO.com polls had only an exhibition game over the break.
If Minnesota remains on top, it should come with an asterisk as the Gophers did not play like a No. 1 team should at home. The mental lapse in their play on Friday and their slow start on Saturday will need to be corrected quickly as Minnesota returns to Big Ten Conference play next weekend in Happy Valley against paltry Penn State.
One bright spot for the Gophers on the weekend was they did not give up a power play goal to either ECAC team. The team is now smack in the middle nationally in penalty kill percentage. An improvement from things in the cellar.