Gophers Lose, Win Cup
Dominated by Wisconsin, But Secure First RS Title Since 2007
by Dan Myers/CHN Staff
MINNEAPOLIS With a chance to clinch the MacNaughton Cup, at home, with perhaps its fiercest rival on the other bench, Minnesota failed to the tune of a 4-1 shellacking at the hands of ninth-place Wisconsin.
But the Gophers got a heck of a consolation prize.
About 20 minutes after the final horn, Minnesota's neighbors 75 miles west on I-94, St. Cloud State, did them a favor, knocking off Minnesota-Duluth 2-1, securing the Gophers, at the very least, a tie for the league championship and the No. 1 seed in the WCHA playoffs next weekend.
Whether it was by plan or not, the score of the SCSU-UMD game was never announced in the arena tonight. And the lone mention of either team playing in the National Hockey Center came midway through the third period. With the Gophers trailing 4-0, the student section began a "Let's Go Huskies," chant.
The students got their wish.
Afterwards, there was little talk of MacNaughton Cup distraction from Gophers coach Don Lucia.
"I don't think we were thinking too far ahead. You can't," Lucia said. "They played a very good game, they were assertive and were much more in sync than we were.
"They were the better team tonight, in basically every phase of the game. It's disappointing. But there's nothing we can do about that now."
Lucia made those remarks with about four minutes remaining in the game in St. Cloud, with the Huskies clinging to a one-goal lead.
Asked what his plans were for the rest of the night, Lucia refused to elaborate.
"Our focus is on (Saturday) night. I want to see us play well, that's my plan," Lucia said. ""I'm gonna go home, get some sleep and come back to the rink tomorrow."
By the time the game in St. Cloud was over, Lucia was back in the locker room. Sophomore defenseman Mark Alt, a freshly-minted MacNaughton Cup champion, was obviously happy with the result, but said he would have rather not needed the help.
"It's a tough situation," Alt said. "On one hand, it's nice to be rewarded for what we've done this season, but at the same time, we wanted to take care of business tonight. That's not how we wanted to go out."
Clearly, little went right for the Gophers on Friday — a reoccurring theme over the course of the season. Minnesota has struggled in series lid-lifters, going 7-7 against WCHA opponents this season. The Gophers are 12-1 on Saturdays.
Even Kent Patterson, a rock all season in goal, found himself watching the third period on the bench after allowing four goals on 15 shots through 40 minutes. The benching ended a remarkable streak of consecutive minutes for Patterson at 3,414:13 — 170 consecutive regulation periods and 12 overtimes — almost 57 hours worth of ice-time, a streak which began in Dec. 2010 and spanned the entirety of 2011.
"It was a little strange," said Gophers senior forward Jake Hansen. "But that's not on Kent, that's on us. We played soft D, our forwards were awful. We let Kent hang out to dry."
Considering the Gophers' Friday-Saturday splits, a victory on Saturday seems almost certain. With the cup theirs and a No. 1 seed all sewn up, Minnesota has little to play for except playoff preparation.
And maybe some pride.
"Tonight is plenty of motivation to come out and do exactly what we need to tomorrow," Alt said. "That's the new focus."