Roman Augustoviz spends Minnesota's winters covering college hockey, specifically the Gophers, and other University of Minnesota sports. During the summer, he writes about the WNBA's Minnesota Lynx, with a dose of U sports sprinkled in. Follow him on Twitter @RomanStrib.

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Exodus of Gophers players brings sadness

Posted by: Roman Augustoviz under Gophers, Men's hockey Updated: April 8, 2013 - 11:28 AM

Nick Bjugstad, Nate Schmidt, Mark Alt, Zach Budish are all gone.

They all opted to leave school, give up a year of eligibility to play pro hockey. It was expected. Well, maybe Alt, was a little surprise.

But it makes me sad that, for whatever reason, this team underachieved. This team had six of its top seven scorers back, all of its top six defenseman and only one obvious hole -- goalie -- which The Don filled with a fabulous freshman.

The Gophers also were great in nonconference games, compiling the best record of any of the nation's 59 Division I teams, 8-0-0. The only other NCAA team that came close was Minnesota State Mankato at 6-0-2.

But once the WCHA season began, the Gophers often played down to their level of competition. They either had a loss or tie against 10 of the 11 other WCHA teams. That's hard to do. The only teams they swept were Alaska Anchorage in one of their two series and  Bemidji State -- on the last weekend of the regular season and, in one of those games, the Gophers  needed a two-goal, third-period rally to win 4-3.

In the playoffs, they met the Beavers again and swept them in two at Mariucci, but one game went into overtime.

Then in the FInal Five and the NCAA tournament, they laid two eggs, losing 2-0 to Colorado College, and then going two more periods without a goal and losing 3-2 in overtime to Yale.

The game should never gone into OT. It's 50-50 often if you are going to win in overtime -- a bad bounce, a turnover -- and the game is over. They had 60 minutes to beat Yale in regulation. There should not have been an overtime.

But it had to be hard to take the Bulldogs or Elis seriously. They had been shut out in back-to-back games in the ECAC tournament. Yale was just somebody in the way before the Gophers had to play North Dakota in the West Regional final -- just like last year -- for a trip the Frozen Four.

The matchup never happened.

The local media have been amazingly kind and gentle with The Don over the Gophers' late-season collapse. This was a loaded team -- at least at the top. The Gophers should have won for MacNaughton Cup outright. They should have swept more than two WCHA series this season, they should be going to the Frozen Four this week.

But The Don couldn't fire up his troops. And he miscalculated on his recruits. He brought in two high-end defenseman -- Mike Reilly and Brady Shea -- to join six experienced veterans. Only six D can play at a time, right?

And he brought in only one high-end forward -- Connor Reilly -- who blew out his knee before the season started.

So, in the biggest game of the season -- the Yale game -- the No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament was throwing out a line with two defensemen on the wings.

Unbelievable. A coach who said he would never get caught short of bodies -- as he was a few years ago when the Gophers were decimated by injuries -- got caught short of forwards. Forwards that could really play, that is.

Look at SCSU, which took a 180-degree different approach.

The Huskies are going to the Frozen Four because they added some young scorers to their veteran forwards.

At times, the freshmen even carried SCSU, like in the Midwest Regional when Joey Benik had four goals.

Here are the stats on the Huskies' top freshmen:

Jonny Brodzinski    22 goals, 11 assists, 33 points

Kalle Kossila             15             18--33

David Morley              11               9--20

Jimmy Murray              5             12--17

Ethan Prow                  3             12--15  

Joey Benik                   7               4--11 

Morley was a redshirt freshman; Benik missed half the season with a broken leg.

Add that up and it's 63 goals, 66 assists for 129 points.

The Gophers' highest scoring freshman was defenseman Mike Reilly 3-11-14. Three others played at least a little and combined for 5-6-11. That's 8 goals, 17 assists and 25 points from newcomers.

The Huskies got 100 more points from the infusion of new blood. That's one big reason SCSU is playing and the Gophers are not.

 

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