Playoffs of the past haunt hockey team

Josh Linehan

For only the second time in 23 years, the Minnesota men’s hockey team will take to the road to begin the WCHA playoffs.
The last time a Gophers team opened the postseason somewhere other than Mariucci Arena, Minnesota headed to Duluth where the Gophers blew a 4-0 third-period lead in the third and final game and went home for the summer.
There are but a few current players who remember the stunning loss. And while the young players are confident heading into the series at Colorado College, the Gophers who were in Duluth for that 1998 series have not forgotten.
“That was the worst feeling in the world,” junior defenseman Dylan Mills said. “We have to play smart hockey to make sure that doesn’t happen again.”
But despite four straight losses, the Gophers seemed confident at practice this week. Goaltender Adam Hauser practiced all week after missing the last two weekends with mononucleosis.
Hauser will make the trip to Colorado Springs, but coach Don Lucia is not tipping his hand as to who will start Friday night’s game.
“As of today our starting goaltender is Pete Samargia. We don’t know how Adam is going to feel come Friday night,” Lucia said.
It will be an ironic trip of sorts for Lucia. The trip marks the first time the former Colorado College coach will start the playoffs on the road. He’ll still start the postseason in Colorado Springs but this time he’ll coach from the visitors’ bench.
“That really doesn’t matter,” Lucia said. “The hardest part is how well they’re playing right now. I think we all know, if they’re firing on all cylinders, they’re an excellent hockey team.”
The Tigers earned home ice by doing exactly what Minnesota could not, defeating Wisconsin last Friday for two points which clinched an upper-division finish.
Junior forward Erik Westrum said the Gophers will have to think defense-first to beat Colorado College in their own building.
“At home, you like to make a great offensive play and score early, get the crowd into it,” Westrum said. “Now that we’re going on the road, we’ll really have to concentrate on defense and picking up our guys.”
Minnesota’s coaches evidently agree — they’ll bring a defenseman as their extra skater this weekend. The coaching staff also decided to stick, to the most part, with the lineup they used Saturday night against St. Cloud. Minnesota left several usual players at home after last Friday’s 5-0 embarrassment at the hands of the Huskies.
Handcuffed by only being allowed to take 21 players on the road, Lucia will leave Erik Young, Mike Lyons, Rico Pagel, Chad Roberg and Doug Meyer at home. Dave Spehar, who was a healthy scratch for last Saturday’s game, will make the trip.
“To his credit, he took (the benching) like a man. He hasn’t pouted,” Lucia said Wednesday. “The bottom line is Dave Spehar has a great pair of hands. He’s one of those players who can bury the puck if he gets it in a certain area.”
And if anyone knows how painful a road loss can be, it’s Dave Spehar. He scored the goal that put Minnesota up 4-0 during that final game at Duluth. Then a freshman, Spehar had to watch as his hometown college stormed back with four unanswered goals, then won the contest in overtime.
Captain Nate Miller, another Gopher who remembers the Duluth debacle, said the team is aware of how easily its season can end on the road.
“It’s a terrible feeling. There’s nothing worse than losing in the first round,” Miller said. “I’m sure we’ll talk about it once we get on the road.”

Josh Linehan covers men’s hockey and welcomes comments at [email protected]