Gophers fall short in WCHA final

Minnesota’s improbable run to the conference finale was much unexpected.

Brian Deutsch

A month ago, nobody thought the Minnesota men’s hockey team would make it to the Western Collegiate Hockey Association Final Five, let alone Saturday’s championship.

But after going on a four-game winning streak in the playoffs – the team’s longest of the season – that’s just where the Gophers found themselves – playing against Denver, another team nobody would have bet on to be there.

“When the weekend began, if you would have told me we’d be pulling our goalie in the championship game trying to tie it because we’re down by one, I don’t know if I would have believed it,” Minnesota coach Don Lucia said of his team’s run. “That’s a real credit to our team and how hard we competed all weekend.”

The two teams were eerily similar this year.

Both had a player leave early for the NHL (Kyle Okposo for Minnesota and Brock Trotter for Denver), and both had to overcome injuries (Pioneers sophomore forward Tyler Ruegsegger and a slew of Gophers – namely junior forward Ryan Stoa).

Unfortunately for Minnesota, there just wasn’t enough gas left in the tanks after playing six games in nine days, as the Pioneers held off the Gophers to win 2-1 and capture the Broadmoor Trophy.

A pair of familiar faces led the way for Denver: freshman forward Tyler Bozak and senior forward Tom May.

Bozak notched his team-leading 18th goal of the season to tie the game at one in the second period after Gophers sophomore forward Ryan Flynn had scored minutes earlier.

In five games against Minnesota this season, Bozak has scored seven goals – the rest of the Pioneers have just nine combined goals against the team this year.

“If he could play us 30 times a year, he’d probably be signing a pro contract right now,” Minnesota coach Don Lucia said. “He should give us part of the bonus.”

May, a native of Eagan, used his impressive speed to develop a partial breakaway and slip the disc in between freshman goalie Alex Kangas’ five-hole, tallying the game-winning goal in what was his final collegiate game in his home-state.

“It was great to get back and win it in front of a lot of family,” May said after the game.”

Kangas left his five-hole exposed when he tried to poke-check the puck – a rare gamble for the traditional netminder.

“I was trying to get him to mess up and fumble the puck, but he made a nice move, went around my stick and slid a five-hole in there,” Kangas, who was later named the MVP of the Final Five, said. “It was probably the wrong play at the time but it was the one I thought I should have made.”

Pohl update

A 2-1 overtime win over top-seeded Colorado College wasn’t the best thing that happened to Minnesota on Friday. Senior forward Tom Pohl was released from the hospital and is resting at his family’s home in Red Wing.

Pohl suffered a skull fracture and bleeding of the brain two weekends ago in the deciding game of Minnesota’s first round playoff with Minnesota State when his helmet was knocked off and the forward then crashed into the boards in front of the Minnesota bench.

“He’s on the road to recovery, so that’s great to hear. I’m really, really happy for him,” Lucia said. “I think the doctors, at least right now, have given him the thumbs up (to accompany the team to NCAAs), which would be great for all of us.”

Regional matchup

Even though the Gophers failed to win the Final Five, they still gained a berth in the national tournament, which begins next weekend with Regional action.

The WCHA will be well represented, sending six teams into the field of 16, including Minnesota, who will face off with Boston College in the first round of the Northeast Regional in Worcester, Mass.

The Gophers have never won a regional game in Worchester, going 0-for-2 with loses to Maine in 1993 and again in 2001.

The Eagles have been the national runner-up the past two seasons, but Minnesota won the national championship the last time the Frozen Four was held in Denver – this year’s host.

Miami, Ohio and Air Force will meet in the second Northeast Regional game, meaning three of the four competitors were present at this year’s Dodge Holiday Classic tournament at Mariucci Arena.

First-round games are scheduled for next Saturday with the winner’s advancing to Sunday’s match-up to see who goes on to the Frozen Four.