Gophers Drive for Six Ends in 7-4 Loss to Union
Minnesota national runner-up for seventh time
Philadelphia, Penn. – Minnesota is a program that goes into each season looking to raise banners. This year’s team was able to win the inaugural Big Ten regular season title, but came up short in the conference tourney and then again falling 7-4 to Union in the NCAA title game.
The Gopher coaching staff often preaches that their philosophy starts from defending their own goal and extends from there. Saturday night, the team was caught watching, waiting, wishing for their goalie to freeze the puck, but the Dutchmen kept getting sticks on rebounds and capitalizing.
It was an uncharacteristic game from their second team All-American goaltender Adam Wilcox to allow so many rebounds, but it was also an overall poor game defensively for Minnesota. The Gophers were outshot 49-40 on the night, the most shots allowed by Minnesota the entire season. The team also took eight minor penalties throughout the game, slowing the game’s flow and forcing them to kill off seven short-handed situations.
The loss was just the team’s seventh of the season, and was a letdown performance for a team that seemed so focused in their previous three tournament games. The run included easy wins over Robert Morris 7-3 and St. Cloud State 4-0, and then a spectacular finish via a literal last second goal by Justin Holl to defeat North Dakota 2-1.
Overall, this year’s team met or exceeded the expectations placed on them in October. The coaching staff had to replace the early departures by Erik Haula, Nate Schmidt, and Nick Bjugstad. Those departures were felt most on special teams as the staff had to replace practically their entire power play, and it took a long time for the team’s power play to get going. It finally hit stride after the holiday break and was a strength in the loss to Union. The Gophers killed off seven short-handed situations and got a power-play goal in the third period in their fourth opportunity.
Yet the season seems like a missed opportunity to add a national title. They seemed to have a great path to the trophy and their freshman got better and better throughout the season. The Gophers got three goals from their freshman class against Union, as Hudson Fasching, Justin Kloos and Taylor Cammarata got in book. Sam Warning was the other Minnesota goal scorer, but it has been the freshman class who stepped right into major roles. The class scored 59 goals this season, over 40 percent of the team’s goal scoring.
The team will be forced to part ways with seniors Holl, Nate Condon, Jake Parenteau, Tom Serratore, and Michael Shibrowski, who did get to see the net for the 45 seconds against Union. The class has taken the program from the dark depths of near .500 seasons and losing to Alaska-Anchorage in the WCHA playoffs to three consecutive regular season titles, three NCAA tournament berths, and two Frozen Fours.
Also, the team will surely be faced with the drama of early departures. Sophomore Wilcox could face pressure from Tampa Bay to sign, as they’ll risk him pursuing free agency if he plays out the 2014-15 season. Fellow sophomores Mike Reilly and Brady Skjei could be enticed by Columbus and the New York Rangers respectively to sign after two very solid seasons. Both players had impressive showings in the World Junior Championships and could be ready for the challenge of professional competition next season. Juniors Kyle Rau (FLA), Ben Marshall (DET), Travis Boyd (WSH), and Seth Ambroz (COL) also could receive attention from their NHL teams as it has been the norm for coveted NHL draft picks to get an enticement to sign after their junior season rather than risk them pursuing free agency after their senior season.
GOLDEN NUGGETS: It was the 12th national championship appearance for Minnesota, but ended as their seventh runner-up finish. That’s seventh is the most second place finishes in NCAA hockey. The program was tied with Boston College at six before the game, a truly Minnesotan record to hold… Minnesota is tied for fifth with five national titles, behind fourth ranked Wisconsin (6) and North Dakota (7), sorry for the reminder… The Gophers had three players named to the CCM/AHCA All-America team, M. Reilly first team and Wilcox, Rau to the second team. Reilly was the first to earn first team honors since Ryan Stoa in 2009, and the first only the third time Minnesota has had three All-Americans (Brian Bonin, Mike Crowley, Dan Trebil in 1996 and Ken Yackel Sr., Dick Dougherty, John Mayasich in 1954)… The seven goals allowed by the Gophers was the most allowed since they gave up six to Minnesota-Duluth on November 24, 2013 and the last time they allowed seven was January 27, 2007 to North Dakota.