Gophers can’t change last season’s ways

As was the case after 2008-09, Minnesota will watch its best player leave early to play professionally.

Hockey vs. Wisconsin

Ian Larson

Hockey vs. Wisconsin

Max Sanders

ItâÄôs beginning to sound like a broken record. The Minnesota menâÄôs hockey team finishes in disappointing post-season fashion. Almost immediately after the season ends, the GophersâÄô star player bolts, signing a lucrative deal with his professional team rather than continuing his career in maroon and gold. The previous two seasons have virtually been mirror images, with the only difference being the latest version fell one round earlier in the playoffs. The 2009-10 Gophers saw their season come to an end in the very place it began, Grand Forks, N.D. Don LuciaâÄôs team had its first losing season in more than a decade (18-19-2) and missed the NCAA Tournament for the second straight year. Shortly after, sophomore Jordan Schroeder announced his departure, signing a three-year deal with the Vancouver Canucks. MinnesotaâÄôs 2008-09 team had a similar sub-standard year in which they fell in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association Final Five to eventual champion Minnesota-Duluth before missing out on an at-large berth for the NCAA Tournament. Shortly after that disappointing end, Ryan Stoa chose not to return for his senior season and instead bolted Minnesota for greener pastures with the Colorado Avalanche. The trend of quick playoff exits is something Lucia obviously doesnâÄôt want to see continue, and the coach has a theory as to why the team struggled so much this season. âÄúOur biggest issue this year was our inability to score goals on a regular basis,âÄù he said. âÄúIt was kind of feast or famine for our guys.âÄù Indeed, MinnesotaâÄôs bottom of conference finish can be traced directly to its lack of scoring. The Gophers finished seventh in the conference standings and also ranked No. 7 in the WCHA in scoring, amassing just 80 goals in 28 conference games. Including non-conference games, Minnesota allowed four more goals than it scored, joining bottom feeders Michigan Tech, Alaska-Anchorage and Minnesota State-Mankato as WCHA teams with that dubious distinction. âÄúI thought defensively we did a pretty good job, and our goals against was where it needed to be,âÄù Lucia said. âÄúIt was just our inability to score on a nightly basis that really hurt us.âÄù If Minnesota is to improve on the offensive side next season, they will have to do so without their top two point-scorers from this season. Tony Lucia (28 points) is graduating, and Schroeder (28 points) opted to go pro just days after the season came to an end. âÄúIt was the right opportunity for me. I think that was the biggest reason,âÄù Schroder said. âÄúEveryone wants to turn pro; itâÄôs their dream. It was just the right opportunity, so I took it.âÄù Schroder was offered a deal by Vancouver last summer, but opted to return for a second season with the Gophers, though Lucia knew the decision to return was probably for just one more season. âÄúIt was not a surprise,âÄù Lucia said. âÄúI had dialogue with Vancouver, probably in January just to get their thoughts, and they said that they were going to sign him. At that point in time we pretty much knew that he would be gone at the end of the year.âÄù Schroder said Lucia expressed hesitation upon hearing his star player had decided to leave for the pros, but ultimately accepted the decision. âÄúHe obviously had his concerns about me leaving, and I think anyoneâÄôs going to do that because you want your players to stay,âÄù Schroeder said. âÄúHe was very professional about it, wished me luck, and said if thatâÄôs your goal, the NHL, then do it.âÄù Schroeder was placed on the Manitoba Moose, an American Hockey League affiliate of the Canucks. The forward made his debut Sunday night, scoring two goals en route to being named the gameâÄôs second star. As for whatâÄôs next for the Gophers, Lucia held a team meeting with the players Monday and will meet with each player individually in the coming weeks. âÄúWe set up and have an individual meeting with every player so we can talk about what we think they can do better and, just as importantly, what they think we can do better,âÄù Lucia said. âÄúI think this is an important time to listen and to see what we can do to be improved next year as players and coaches.âÄù As for staff evaluation, Athletics Director Joel Maturi has an end of season evaluation with all coaches following the conclusion of their season. That meeting has not happened yet, but Lucia has maintained contact with Maturi, saying he speaks with the athletics director weekly. While the season didnâÄôt end how the team would have liked, MinnesotaâÄôs performance down the stretch gives Lucia hope as he looks toward next year. âÄúYou look at who we played and how we played, even our North Dakota weekend up there âĦ WeâÄôre the only team to beat them in the last month and that was in their rink,âÄù the coach said. âÄúI think thatâÄôs encouraging as we head into next year.âÄù