Coming into the weekend, there was but a three-spot gap in the polls between Minnesota’s men’s hockey team and its opponent, Wisconsin. The Gophers sat at No. 4 while the Badgers were at the top.
From what Minnesota showed on the ice this weekend, this team has a long, long, long way to go to get to Wisconsin’s level.
The Gophers were thoroughly dominated throughout the series in suffering a sweep at the hands of the Badgers by scores of 4-0 Saturday and 4-3 Friday at Mariucci Arena. Saturday’s loss was the first time Minnesota had been shut out at home since March 3, 2000.
“(Wisconsin is) a very good team,” coach Don Lucia said. “Deservedly the No. 1 ranked team in the country and I thought they were outstanding all weekend long.
“They came in here and took it to us.”
The series was pitted as a battle between Minnesota’s high-powered offense and Wisconsin’s top-notch defense. But it didn’t turn out to be much of a battle at all.
Using their defense ” ranked first in the nation coming into the weekend ” the Badgers controlled the tempo for all but about 10 minutes of the series.
Wisconsin (13-1-2, 10-1-2 WCHA) effectively slowed things down, something that clearly frustrated Minnesota (7-5-4, 6-4-2), a team that loves to ratchet up the pace of the game.
The Gophers were also irked by the fact that the Badgers did such a strong job keeping them out of the area around the net and limiting their scoring chances.
“They just wanted to try to box us up and play defensively and not really let us get flowing,” junior forward Ryan Potulny said. “But that’s something that we’ve just got to battle through and we didn’t do it.”
The Badgers’ defense paid off on the other end of the rink as well.
Wisconsin, now unbeaten in its last 14 games, was able to create numerous odd-man rushes off its defensive efforts. The visitors scored three goals on those rushes, including the first goal Friday, which came 27 seconds into the contest.
Perhaps most surprising in all this is that the Badgers did everything the Gophers thought they would, according to Lucia.
If that’s the case, then why did Minnesota, a team with seemingly equal or maybe even superior talent, get so completely outplayed?
The main culprit may have been the same one that had been haunting the team for the early part of the season: lack of hustle. Long stretches in both games saw the Gophers playing flat and not putting in the effort necessary to beat a top-ranked opponent like Wisconsin.
It appeared as though Minnesota might have gotten over this as of late as the team had been unbeaten over the last three weekends (4-0-2).
As for why the relapse happened, answers were not easy to come by.
“It’s definitely the worry of all the guys in the locker room,” senior forward and captain Gino Guyer said. “We’re trying to find the answers right now and no one really has it.”
Though no one on the team seems sure why this occurred, Potulny ” who at one point after Saturday’s game called the Gophers’ performance “an embarrassment” ” said he hopes the team doesn’t start playing the blame game.
“You can’t sit and point fingers,” he said. “That’s what kills a team. That’s something I said after the game. I said, “Every single guy in this locker room better be pointing thumbs and not fingers because real teams don’t point fingers.’ “
It remains to be seen if any sort of finger pointing will occur. That being said, it doesn’t take any time at all to see that this weekend was a clear step down ” both in the rankings and elsewhere ” for Minnesota.
“If we can spin it into a positive, we can use it to build,” Guyer said. “But right now, a lot of the guys are just… they’re pretty bummed out.”