March 15, 2008 PRINT Bookmark and Share

Mavericks Grab Mental Edge Over Gophers

With six years of momentum working against them, Minnesota State scores a short-handed goal in the second overtime

by Dan Myers/CHN Reporter

MANKATO, Minn. — It wasn't more than 24 hours ago that No. 15 Minnesota had what some, including myself, described as an almost insurmountable mental edge in its WCHA playoff series against No. 10 Minnesota State.

If you're a Gopher fan, you have to wonder who's on the short end of the proverbial "mental stick" now.

Entering the game, the Gophers were unbeaten in 20 straight games against the Mavericks. They hadn't lost to MSU since 2002. The Gophers only conference sweep this season came in November against Minnesota State. Much was made of the mental edge that was supposed to give the Gophers.

But what now? From all accounts, Minnesota played perhaps its best game of the season. It fired 34 shots on MSU netminder Mike Zacharias. It had four straight power plays in the first period. It had the game's only overtime man-advantage. And how did Minnesota answer?

Two shots with the man advantage. Nine shots through two periods. Zero goals. One shorthanded goal allowed.

One must wonder: Are the Gophers now the ones wondering what they must do? UM has struggled to score all season long, no more so than Friday night in Mankato.

Give credit to the Minnesota State — the Mavericks entered the game with little respect from anybody. Most "experts," picked the Minnesota to win the series. They still might. But right now, it doesn't look good.

Saturday will be a challenge for both teams, but more so for Minnesota. They can't let it be. The Gophers need to win Saturday to extend its season. Sure, if things go the right way around the country, Minnesota could back into the NCAA Tournament in two weeks. But this is a team that struggled last year, fresh off an emotional Final Five victory. Backing into an NCAA tournament is not a position to be in. Not this time of year.

"You train all year long," Gophers head coach Don Lucia said afterwards. "We'll stretch, eat, and get a good night's sleep. They'll be ready to go."

That might help heal the Gophers physical wounds after a long battle like Friday's game.

But the mental scars incurred might render the physical damage done completely moot. Now, Gopher fans, is when you will see the true mental make-up of your team. It'd be easy for Minnesota to come out flat, fall behind early Saturday and mail-in its season. Friday's loss was as crushing as they come and if the Gophers can find a way to endure, if they can find a way to win Saturday night, the mental pendulum just might swing back to the Maroon and Gold for a possible third game Sunday.

Momentum, they say, is like the wind. You can't see it, but you can feel it. The Gophers had six years of momentum on their side. It took the Mavericks a split second to steal it. All of it.

Only time will tell if the Gophers have the will to take it back.

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