Mass exodus starts to catch up with pair of men’s teams

The Gophers men’s basketball and hockey teams haven’t dealt well with losing.

Aaron Blake

Minnesota men’s hockey coach Don Lucia said something very interesting after his team gave away a win with seven seconds to go Saturday against Alaska-Anchorage: “Training camp starts Monday, as far as I’m concerned.”

On first thought, it sounded as if Lucia was ready to put his players through the proverbial gauntlet in practice this week. On second thought, maybe he really just wanted to go back in time to training camp.

And he’s not the only one who would like a time machine.

Forget learning how to deal with success, Minnesota’s men’s hockey and basketball teams have had trouble learning how to deal with disappointment of late. Both are going to have to break out of their funks very soon if they are to realize the postseason expectations they’ve brought on themselves.

The problem lies in the fact that both teams entered this season with a group of players who didn’t know how to lose.

Sure, the basketball team got a steady helping of the loss column last year. But those remaining from that team – Jeff Hagen, Brent Lawson and Aaron Robinson – couldn’t do much about it coming off the bench with Kris Humphries on the floor.

Likewise, the leadership of the hockey team had Keith Ballard and Grant Potulny to lift the team from early season pains.

But the offseason early exit list reads like this: Humphries, Moe Hargrow, Stan Gaines, Aliou Kane and Matt Smriga for basketball, and Ballard, Thomas Vanek, Jake Taylor and Brett MacKinnon for hockey.

Toss in five graduating seniors for each team, and you’ve got a hefty chunk of experience that just walked out the door.

Through early February for basketball and early January for hockey, it was easy to forget these subtractions. But now, it looks as if neither team has the leadership or the wherewithal to come back from a home loss to Northwestern or a home sweep at the hands of Michigan Tech.

The basketball team followed up its loss to the Wildcats with a painful showing Saturday in Bloomington, Ind. The hockey team split with underachieving Minnesota-Duluth (11-14-5) at Mariucci Arena the week after Michigan Tech (8-19-2) and more recently failed to beat Alaska-Anchorage (9-15-4) for the third time in three games this season.

It makes you wonder how much Dan Monson wishes Moe Hargrow could’ve played after returning to the team this year or how much Lucia wishes Ballard had pushed aside the American Hockey League for manning the point on the Gophers’ power play.

Maybe if they just had one of those guys that left …

Of course, neither coach is going to say anything of the sort. And they probably shouldn’t.

The positive thing out of all of this is that each team has shown the ability to win. After all, the basketball team neared top-25 status with its win over Wisconsin on Feb. 5, and the hockey team occupied the top spot in the rankings for six weeks.

But before they can start winning again, they’ve got to learn how to lose. This requires someone, and maybe everyone, to grow up real fast.

Otherwise, they’ll be headed back to real training camp sooner than they know it.