Postseason tradition can’t help men’s hockey

by Josh Linehan

Minnesota men’s hockey has an almost unparalleled tradition. And on Saturday night, the Gophers took time to honor the high points in that tradition when they welcomed back the members of the three Minnesota national championship teams.
And though the idea was genuine, the entire thing seemed a little mistimed before the puck was dropped.
By the time the last horn sounded, it seemed positively alien.
On a night Minnesota honored past NCAA tournament success, the Gophers might have eliminated themselves from contention for one of the 12 NCAA spots.
By losing to Colorado College on Saturday, Minnesota not only failed to move up in the WCHA standings but dropped out of the NCAA tournament picture for the time being.
A win would have given the Gophers a tie for third place with St. Cloud State. Instead, Minnesota now sits in sixth in the WCHA — on the outside of the home-ice advantage — and 13th in the pairwise rankings, which are used to determine NCAA tournament selections in mid-March.
With three series remaining, the Gophers face an uphill battle to reach the 21-win plateau coach Don Lucia feels his team needs for solid NCAA consideration.
After next weekend’s series at Michigan Tech, Minnesota faces Wisconsin — the No. 1 team in the country — at home and then skates in a home-at-home series with St. Cloud.
After the loss Saturday, senior captain Nate Miller challenged himself and his team to not allow letdowns to keep them home come March.
“It better end Monday, that’s for sure,” Miller said of his team’s lack of effort Saturday night. “You can’t give up games at home this time of year, and we’re running out of time.”
In years past, Minnesota was usually assured of an NCAA berth by this point in the season. In fact, Minnesota made the tournament 13 consecutive seasons, from 1985 to 1997, before missing the field the past two years. And in the late 1970s, Minnesota won three national championships, in ’74, ’76 and ’79.
But despite a pregame pep talk from the captains of those three teams, the Gophers went out and played indifferently in a game they needed badly to win.
“So much for the pregame pep talks,” coach Don Lucia joked after the game.
“I think it’s good for the guys to see those guys. They’re such a big part of the history of this program. I know I got windburned by a few of those guys,” Lucia said.
If Minnesota had any extra game uniforms Saturday, the veterans couldn’t have done much worse.

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