Late-period lapses cost men’s hockey team crucial points

by Adam Fink

It was a scene that has become all too familiar.

Last Friday at Colorado College, Minnesota’s men’s hockey team allowed the Tigers’ Brett Sterling to score with just over nine seconds to play in the first period.

The Gophers went on to lose the game 6-2 and the late-period goal has rekindled doubts about Minnesota’s ability to finish a period strong.

This season, Minnesota has allowed 14 goals in the final two minutes of periods, including six in the last minutes of games.

The late-third-period goals have arguably cost the Gophers three points in the WCHA standings this season.

“We are young,” coach Don Lucia said. “You just have to be patient.

“The biggest concern is it is costing us points.”

Lucia has no explanation for the seventh-ranked Gophers’ (15-7-7, 10-5-5 WCHA) struggles late in periods. He doesn’t believe it’s due to lack of focus or the intensity level.

For the Gophers’ Travis Weber, goaltender in 22 games this season, it has to do with the other teams’ ability to create scoring opportunities in the final moments.

“Sometimes the other teams need to make clutch plays and it seems like they are doing it,” Weber said after the Gophers allowed a late goal in a 4-4 tie against Minnesota State-Mankato on Jan. 25.

The biggest hope for Lucia is the team will learn from its mistakes and not make them twice. Only two points out of second place in the conference, every game is becoming more important than the previous.

And sometimes the difference between home ice and traveling for the WCHA playoffs is a few stops here and there.

“Sometimes goalies need to make some big saves,” Lucia said. “We need some big saves at the end of periods.”

Still automatic

The WCHA Final Five will still have post-season implications after all.

The conference isn’t in danger of losing its automatic bid to the national tournament, despite new NCAA legislation expected to take effect Sep. 1.

The new law says one-sport-only conferences – like the WCHA – must have six “core” institutions for at least eight years to be eligible for an automatic bid.

A “core” university is defined by the NCAA as Division I schools in every sport. Currently, the WCHA has only three schools – Minnesota, Wisconsin and Denver – meeting that criteria.

However, the NCAA’s Championship and Competition Committee voted 43-0 over the weekend to recommend grandfathering in affected conferences.

The winner of the Final Five earns an automatic berth in the NCAA tournament despite its regular-season record.

“The reality is it’s important for the playoffs,” Lucia said. “It allows teams not in position to make the post-season to have a chance.”

The NCAA’s Management Council is expected to vote at its April meeting to adhere to the Championship and Competition Committee’s recommendation, ending any concern for Lucia or the rest of the league.

Where’s Nick?

Senior Nick Anthony was expected to have a solid final season in the maroon and gold.

Instead, the forward is struggling to find a place in the rotation.

Since amassing five points through December, Anthony has yet to add to his total. In addition, the alternate captain’s playing time has been sporadic.

“He has struggled this season,” Lucia said. “He’s a great kid, has a great work ethic, but for some reason it just hasn’t gone his way.”

Lucia has talked with the Faribault, Minn., native and told him he must play even harder to have a role in Minnesota’s lineup, which is now at full strength.