Column: Blame Big Ten for Minnesota’s destruction

The Gophers’ move to Big Ten conference did them no favors

by David Nelson

When it rains, it pours. But in the case of the Minnesota men’s hockey team, it has reached the point where players and coaches need to start building an ark.

It might already be too late for that.

Amid a season in which fans have watched their beloved team go from No. 1 to unranked, different reasons have been thrown out to try to diagnose the problem ailing the 11-9-2 Gophers.

Puck movement? Spacing? Scoring? Coaching? Defense?

While all of these certainly hold valid claims, after watching Minnesota get swept in the North Star College Cup last weekend, it’s time to throw out a different reason: the Big Ten.

It didn’t take long Friday night to figure which team still played in the WCHA.

Minnesota State-Mankato walked all over the Gophers at Xcel Energy Center, outskating Minnesota on its way to a 4-2 win.

Last season, the Gophers turned the series against the Mavericks into an absolute rout.

It’s difficult to imagine that a team could regress that much in just one year, especially after bringing back the bulk of its key contributors.

In his postgame comments, head coach Don Lucia also noted the absence of sophomore Vinni Lettieri didn’t greatly impact the outcome of the game.

So how does a team go from beating a program twice in one season to being defeated in dominating fashion?

By playing against mediocre Big Ten teams for a little more than a year.

During their first season in the Big Ten, the Gophers dominated conference games because they were accustomed to playing the vastly more talented teams of the WCHA.

Unfortunately for Minnesota, it decided to commit a cardinal sin of the sports world and sink to the level of its competition.

The Big Ten boasts just one team counted among the top 20 in the country and only three of its teams post overall records above .500.

After playing against mediocre competition, now the Gophers are the team being outskated and outmatched by their opponents — even in their own conference.

Minnesota’s downfall began in November in a series against Minnesota-Duluth, the same team that outlasted the Gophers in a 2-1 victory Saturday night.

Following a disappointing last place finish in the North Star College Cup, the floodgates have certainly opened up on the Gophers.

At this point, almost anything can be pointed at and blamed for the way this Minnesota hockey season has gone.

Right now, the only thing that remains to be seen is just how much damage this flood leaves at the end of the season.