Gophers learn lesson, cherish MacNaughton Cup this time around

Gophers left superstitions behind and celebrated with their home fans.

Mark Remme

Perhaps this year’s edition of Minnesota’s men’s hockey team is filled with more youth enthusiasm than last year’s.

Or maybe they just learned the hard way to appreciate titles when they come along.

One year ago Saturday, Gophers captain Gino Guyer skated across the Mariucci Arena ice and accepted the team’s first MacNaughton Cup since 1996-97.

It capped off a 7-0 defeat of Minnesota Duluth and gave the Gophers a 17-1-1 mark in its previous 19 games, but Guyer and his crew, taking a hockey superstitious route, showed relatively no jubilation for the cup they just received.

The team circled around the cup, did a stick salute to the fans, and skated away leaving the hardware sitting at center ice.

Anyone who witnessed last year’s celebration saw an overwhelming contrast when Minnesota won its second straight Western Collegiate Hockey Association title on Friday.

The Gophers huddled around a celebrating senior netminder Kellen Briggs in the crease, then bombarded team captain Mike Vannelli once the cup was in his hands, before taking a brief victory lap.

“Obviously whatever we did last year didn’t work out so great,” Vannelli said. “We decided we should go out there and enjoy it a little bit.”

Last year’s display was described by junior forward Evan Kaufmann as pure superstition.

He said the rationale was if the team touched the cup it might jinx them and hinder any potential playoff success.

Things didn’t work out so smoothly taking that route. Minnesota dropped its two WCHA Final Five contests and its first round matchup with Holy Cross in the NCAA tournament.

Coach Don Lucia expressed his displeasure in last year’s ritual after Friday’s win, and said it’s a moment the team should revel in with the fans.

“I was mad at the team last year,” Lucia said. “A WCHA playoff title win is great but that’s a four-game tournament; this is a 28-game grind against the top teams and programs in the country.

“The way they celebrated last year was a disappointment to the coaches and fans.”

Lucia did his part Friday. After Vannelli accepted the MacNaughton cup, Lucia grabbed the microphone and addressed those in attendance – something he said he wasn’t able to do last year.

“All of a sudden we got the trophy and Gino just sat the thing down,” Lucia mused. “I thought, ‘Gol, how disappointing is that?’ “

But little celebration was lost Friday and Minnesota’s young squad, comprised of nine freshmen and just two seniors, came together to raise at least one banner into the Mariucci rafters during the 2007 season.

And as for superstition, Lucia’s answer was brief: “I don’t believe in that, no.”

Kaufmann shared similar feelings.

“Superstitions aren’t going to win you hockey games,” he said. “It’s what you do on the ice.”

Maybe karma, via the MacNaughton Cup, taught the Gophers a valuable lesson.