First-round defeat leaves Minnesota at a real loss

After a hot end to the regular season, Minnesota fell to Holy Cross.

by Chris Lempesis

GRAND FORKS, N.D. – Many tears were shed in the locker room of Minnesota’s men’s hockey team after its shocking 4-3 loss to Holy Cross in the NCAA West Regional on Friday.

But there were just as many vacant stares.

“That kind of shows that emotional level where our kids were at,” coach Don Lucia said.

In other words – not a very good one.

The lack of necessary emotion wasn’t something that sprung up from out of nowhere for the Gophers. The team had been struggling to play with top-notch intensity really for the past three weeks, Lucia said.

“We lost the emotion and (senior defenseman Chris Harrington), I think, summed it up,” Lucia said. “He felt no emotion. And this time of the year, you need to feel emotion. So, for whatever reason, these last three weeks our team lacked it and was not able to regain it.”

Minnesota was able to get away with that in the first round of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association playoffs two weeks ago against Alaska-Anchorage, earning a sweep mainly on the basis of its large talent advantage.

But at the Final Five last weekend in St. Paul, the talent gap closed considerably and the lack of emotion finally began to catch up to the Gophers as they lost both games, including a lifeless performance against Wisconsin in the third-place game.

At the time, the players seemed to pass the performances off as a bump in the road. Instead, it turned out to foreshadow of what would happen at Ralph Engelstad Arena against the Crusaders.

“Maybe that put a little doubt in our minds,” senior forward and team captain Gino Guyer said.

Senior forward Andy Sertich had a different take on the situation.

“You know what? I don’t think (the Final Five performance) had much to do with it,” Sertich said. “Because we had a great week of practice. We came in here, we thought we were ready and obviously we weren’t.”

That was evident to Holy Cross forward Tyler McGregor, who scored the overtime game-winner.

“They didn’t seem to be themselves, from what I expected,” McGregor said.

Even if Minnesota had won, Lucia said he wasn’t so sure his team would have been able to win in the finals.

“It would have been hard for us to win (Saturday) even if we won in overtime,” he said. “Because it was an indication of how we were playing and I would have been very surprised had we been able to, in a day, to regain that.”

This begs the obvious question: Why did the emotional level drop off? How could a team that was on an 18-1-1 tear going into the playoffs, suddenly stop playing with intensity at the time of the year it’s most needed?

Answers were hard to come by.

“You know what? I don’t know,” Lucia said. “It’s a good question. I said it reminded me of my ’95 (Colorado College) team when the big battle cry was to get to the NCAA Tournament, get there, get there, get there and when they got there, they were emotionally flat. And for whatever reason, you see it in teams.”

One possible answer lies in the tear itself.

With the regular season title clinched, as well as a No. 1 seed for the NCAA Tournament, it’s entirely possible Minnesota dialed it back, knowing that it wouldn’t be affected by whatever happened in the Final Five.

And, ultimately, if this was the case, the Gophers were right. The Final Five performance didn’t hurt their chances entering the NCAA Tournament.

But the lack of emotion that carried over absolutely did hurt them in their first – and only – game as a No.1 seed.

“We were on a hot streak and then, I don’t know what happened,” sophomore defenseman Alex Goligoski said. “We lost something and Ö

“I don’t know.”