Column: Gophers end season in all too fitting fashion

by David Nelson

When Minnesota opened its season in early October, the team faced superb expectations from fans and media pundits.

Predictions of conference and national titles seemed to flow freely as people talked about the prospects of the renowned hockey school’s season.

Two months into the season, those high praises stopped coming as the team washed out of contention.

When Minnesota-Duluth ousted the Gophers on Friday night in a 4-1 victory, it seemed like an all too fitting way for Minnesota to end its season.

For the past two months, the Gophers looked like a rejuvenated squad after such a bleak outlook in late January.

Minnesota battled down the stretch and even won itself both the Big Ten tournament and the regular-season conference title.

However, the Gophers couldn’t carry that success into their first NCAA tournament game and essentially lost in the first period when the Bulldogs scored three goals in the last 10 minutes of the first period.

“[From] the emotional standpoint, the emotional capital of the last six, seven weeks to try to get ourselves in a position to be in the NCAA — it just seemed like we were a little bit emotionally flat at times,” head coach Don Lucia told reporters after the game.

The apathy appeared on Dinkytown’s streets on Friday night as well.

Compared to last season, the intersection of Fourth Street Southeast and 14th Avenue Southeast seemed rather bare after the Gophers’ season ended in a loss.

No students threw bottles, no one shoved street signs through car windows and no one felt the need to go toe-to-toe with police officers dressed in full riot gear.

In fact, the only emotion fans seemed to express on the streets of Dinkytown was confusion.

What happened to the team that won seven of its last 10 games? Did the players not seem interested? Did Lucia coach to his abilities?

Those questions can be added to the list that started halfway through the season — an inventory of shortcomings that unfortunately might be the only thing fans remember from the year.

But as Lucia said, the team accomplished plenty this year.

“We’ve had our ups and downs throughout the course of the season, but what they accomplished, there’s only one more thing they could’ve accomplished and that was winning the last game of the year,” Lucia told reporters.

It’s unfortunate for the seniors to end their careers like this — their play this season helped rejuvenate the downtrodden Gophers, and they should be commended for it.

But by the time the seniors depart and others take their talents to the NHL, Minnesota’s resiliency this year will be all but forgotten.