Gophers place last in annual tourney

Minnesotea lost to two in-state rivals in the North Star College Cup.

Ben Gotz

Head coach Don Lucia said the third period on Saturday represented how things have been going for his team lately.

Almost 18 minutes of late dominance had allowed the Gophers to tie No. 7 Minnesota-Duluth, and the team looked set to score again or take the game into overtime.

Lucia said after the game he thought his team may have been finding itself again, but a late Duluth goal ended the team’s momentum and gave them a last-place finish in the North Star College Cup.

Flashes of brilliant play, followed by a crushing mistake. That’s the pattern the Gophers seem to have fallen into, and it resulted in them losing to in-state rivals Minnesota State-Mankato and Minnesota-Duluth over the weekend.

“We’re just pissed off,” senior defenseman Ben Marshall said. “We’re angry. Took fourth place out of four teams, so we’re not happy.”

Both games featured memorable finishes between the in-state teams, with Duluth senior forward Adam Krause’s late goal capping Saturday’s 2-1 finish.

On Friday, Mankato junior goaltender Stephon Williams earned attention at the end by grabbing his net and pushing it off its pegs.

The Gophers were attempting a late rally from a 4-2 deficit and had a 6-on-4 man advantage thanks to a Mavericks penalty and pulling goaltender Adam Wilcox.

The Gophers advantage turned to 6-on-3 with Mankato sophomore forward Jordan Nelson down on the ice after blocking a shot, which caused Williams to take the net off its mooring to get a whistle with 1:13 remaining in the game.

The Gophers had the option to have a 6-on-3 power play or take a penalty shot. With so little time remaining, Lucia elected to have senior forward Seth Ambroz take the penalty shot, but Williams made the save to help win the game.

Both games ended too little, too late for the Gophers, who struggled to generate offense in both contests.

The Gophers took an early lead toward the end of the first period on Friday, but they saw it evaporate just more than a minute later and entered the locker room tied instead of leading.

It was the last time the Gophers held the lead all game, as mistakes such as letting Mankato freshman forward C.J. Franklin slip behind the defense allowed the No. 1 Mavericks to build a 4-2 lead.

“Once again, same old mistakes for us,” senior forward Travis Boyd said Friday. “We’re giving up goals the same way; we’re making the same mistakes over and over again. Eventually we’ve got to learn from it. Otherwise it’s just going to be the same thing every weekend.”

On Saturday, the Gophers appeared to be turning a corner, especially in the third period when they appeared to take command in the consolation game.

But the Gophers waited too long to begin taking control, and they were never able to take the lead in the game.

“You look at the third period, we killed it for 18 minutes and then they scored,” senior captain Kyle Rau said. “You see when we start playing with urgency we have a good team but the problem is we don’t get there the full 60.”

The Gophers will have to play with urgency the rest of the season in conference play to even return to the NCAA tournament, but that starts with moving past a rough ending to their nonconference schedule.

“Let’s forget the whole tournament,” Marshall said. “Let’s forget it all.”