Sunday, March 30, 2008

In the end, Gophers fail to convert

The story has been the same all season for the Gopher hockey team - chances are there, results are not.

Minnesota outshot Boston College, 33-32, in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament Saturday, yet the Eagles won on the scoreboard, 5-2.

The Gophers had chances throughout the game, but unlike Boston College, Minnesota was unable to cash in. The Eagles were just the better team, and unfortunately for the Gophers, their best player (Alex Kangas) didn't have much say. Whether it was a breakaway on a bad line change or a player being left in front of the net, Kangas really had no chance (maybe could've stopped the fourth goal, which tipped off his glove).

Minnesota was whistled for four penalties in the opening seven minutes, and the Eagles capitalized on a 4-on-3 opportunity on Ben Smith's 22nd goal of the season to give the Eagles a 1-0 lead (David Fischer attempted to clear the puck, but whiffed and the puck went right to Smith).

After surviving the rest of the period, Minnesota tied the score in the second period on Mike Howe's rebound goal off a shot from David Fischer. However, just over four minutes later, Benn Ferriero’s 17th tally of the season put BC ahead for good.

Third period goals by Pat Gannon and Joe Whitney would ice things for the Eagles. Minnesota did mount a mini comeback on a Ben Gordon goal late in the game on a six-on-four goal (Kangas was out of the net) with four minutes left. Actually play went on for more than three minutes before the referees had a chance to review it and find out they missed one.

A late empty net goal by Hobey Baker finalist Nate Gerbe made the final difference.

They’re a good transition team and we knew that," Gophers coach Don Lucia said. "There were a lot of penalties right away. It was hard to get into the flow of the game. I thought we got better when we could roll our lines a little more in the second and third periods. They have really high-skilled players and they’re really good around the net. They really swarm the blue paint. They are really quick to the pucks and that’s one of their big assets."

Minnesota says goodbye to seniors Derek Peltier, Evan Kaufmann, Tom Pohl, Ben Gordon, Mike Howe, and Brent Solei. I wouldn't be suprised to see one or two others leave as well (possibly Blake Wheeler to Phoenix or goaltender Jeff Frazee, who has no future with the program).

Howe: "It’s pretty emotional. The last four years have been years I’ll never forget. Losing the way we did today, we fought real hard, we just didn’t get a couple bounces to go our way. Playing for the University of Minnesota has meant the world to me. It’s sad to say goodbye this way."

Gordon: "For me, I guess the hardest part is saying goodbye to a lot of good friends that we’ve made over the years. I just want to say a special thanks to my class. They are some of my best friends in the whole world. I am so fortunate to get a chance to play for this school and with such a great coaching staff. I’ve loved it."

They bring back a nice nucleus of players to go along with arguably the top freshman class in the nation, led by the likes of Jordan Schroeder, Aaron Ness and Jake Hansen.

I think the Gophers need to get a little stronger in the back, but I'd assume that will happen with Kevin Wehrs, Stu Bickel and Cade Fairchild all being a year older. I also think that RJ Anderson and David Fischer need to make strides. I think Fischer can be a top defenseman, but he needs to work a bit harder at improving his offense. It starts with hitting the net on his shot.

As for forwards, this team needs goal scorers and Schroeder and Hansen will help, but they need more from guys such as Mike Hoeffel, Patrick White and Mike Carman. Right now, we have a lot of second and third line guys - that has to improve.

Yes, a disappointing end to one of the worst seasons in a decade, but a month ago I didn't even think we'd be in the NCAAs, so the late season run was a good sign for the future, especially with Kangas in nets.

Half of the Frozen Four is set with top seed Michigan and a No. 4 seed Notre Dame, yes a No. 4. I think North Dakota beats Wisconsin (who scored six goals on Peter Mannino and Denver) and Boston College houses Miami of Ohio.

Go Davidson! Thanks for reading!

3 comments:

PJS said...

I'm no expert, but I was struck by BC's speed advantage. The goal to put them up 2-1 came off of a counter attack. The Gophers had a scoring chance. It was denied. And in an isntant BC was up the ice with a 3 on 1.

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