Tim Nichols

The Gophers men’s hockey team has been fighting the biggest, meanest opponent of all — themselves — throughout the season, with only limited success.
Minnesota’s physical and mental breakdowns have haunted the team relentlessly, with the latest downfall coming in Friday’s 6-4 loss.
“It was tic-tac-toe,” coach Doug Woog said. “And that’s not passes, there were misplays. It came down to three physical errors which led to three unassisted goals. If (the officials) gave an assist on any of those goals, it would be stretching it.”
Missed passes and missed checks regularly resulted in odd-man rushes and breakaway chances for the Badgers in the final regular season series. The worst of these miscues might have been when sophomore defenseman Dylan Mills bobbled the puck and allowed Wisconsin to streak down the ice and tie the game on a goal by Tim Rothering. Little more than a minute later, Badgers’ fourth-liner Chad Stauffacher put Wisconsin ahead for good when he popped the puck through a scrum in the crease.
“The puck was on the other end of the goalpost,” Stauffacher said. “I tried to pull it around, then either Hauser got a skate on it, or I tipped it in.”
The occasional inability of the Gophers to clear the puck from their own zone, along with their haphazard puck-handling, were cardinal and white nails in a maroon and gold coffin.
The pressure that Minnesota’s defense faced in the game, coupled with the long, rebound-forcing shots that goaltender Adam Hauser faced, were all part of Wisconsin coach Jeff Sauer’s master plan.
“That’s what the scouting report told us,” Sauer said. “Put pressure on the defensemen and get the puck. Hauser really battles the puck and I thought he battled it tonight, and he really gives up rebounds and stuff really badly.”
So long, farewell
Sauer wasn’t at all upset when the Minnesota fans headed to the exits in droves following Stauffacher’s go-ahead goal and Matt Doman’s empty-netter.
In fact, he loved it.
“It’s fun watching people leave before the game’s over,” Sauer said. “It’s fun for me.”
One way or the other
Senior Reggie Berg looks forward to the first-round playoff series against Alaska-Anchorage.
“If we keep working like this we’ll have a good shot against (Alaska-Anchorage),” Berg said. “It’s the playoffs, you’ve got to win. It’s either the Target Center or Mexico.”
It’s understandable that Berg really wants to win this series, but perhaps another destination, such as New Jersey, instead of sunny, tourist-friendly Mexico could serve as a better deterrent against losing.
Minnesota honors
The Gophers held their annual awards banquet Sunday to honor their four seniors — Mike Anderson, Reggie Berg, Bill Kohn and Wyatt Smith — along with other award winners.
The John Mariucci Most Valuable Player award again went to senior Smith, who took the honor after last season. The Warroad native led the team with 22 goals and 18 assists.
The Mike Crupi Award for most determined player was shared by senior Anderson and freshman forward Erik Wendell.
Kohn received the Elwin “Doc” Romnes Leadership/Sportsmanship Award. The Dr. V. George Nagobads Unsung Hero Award was shared by sophomore Erik Westrum and Berg.
The Frank Pond Rookie of the Year award went to defenseman Jordan Leopold. Junior forward Nate Miller won the John Mayasich Outstanding Student-Athlete Award, and junior defenseman Mike Lyons received the Donald M. Clark Leadership Award for community service.