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.
Looking for reasons the Gophers fell short this season?
I got a theory. Somebody blundered putting this roster together.
That's the only way to explain the Gophers playing 10 forwards and eight defenseman against Yale.
D-man Jake Parenteau and Justin Holl were the left and right wings on the Gophers' fourth line. That line had two shots on goal in the U's 3-2 overtime loss to Yale.
On a roster with 15 NHL draft picks, the coaches couldn't find 12 forwards to play.
Associate head coach Mike Guentzel was on the radio Saturday morning saying the Gophers were still trying to put lines together at the end of the season.
Four forwards on the Gophers roster barely saw the ice, if at all.
Freshman Connor Reilly was the big story. He came to the U after a great season at Penticton in the British Columbia Hockey League. Guentzel said he would have been a top nine forward. My guess, top six.
At any rate, he suffered an ACL knee injury at a team party before the season began. It turned out to be a humongous loss.
Because once the Gophers coaches saw what else they had at forward, they must have decided not much.
Ryan Reilly, Connor's twin brother, played eight games, Jared Larson four, Christian Horn none.
In effect, the Gophers' 27-man roster was really 20.
The Gophers had four forwards who didn't play and three goalies who didn't play: Mike Shibrowski and two practice goalies.
On that 20 man roster were goalie Adam Wilcox, 11 forwards and eight defensemen. That's it. Not much room to maneuver. Not much competition for playing spots. Nineteen of those players played almost every game. One sat.
Fortunately, this team avoided any major injuries, except fo Connor Reilly's.
That one hurt enough.
* Connor Reilly has been skating for a couple weeks now. He joins his teammates for part of practice, but is not having contact yet.
Yale has played three WCHA teams this season. Each game went into overtime. And the Elis won each game.
Yup, Yale plays to win in overtime, not to tie like some teams do.
Coach Keith Allain's team now has won five games in OT and lost, uh, none. It has xx ties.
Here are Yale's other overtime wins:
Nov. 23, 2012 -- beat Denver 2-1 on road. Kenny Agostino scored at 1:32 on a power play, with assists from Jesse Root and Antoine Laganiere.
Nov. 24, 2012 -- beat Colorado College 6-5 on road. Josh Balch scored at 1:39 with assists from Stu Wilson and Ryan Obuchowski.
Jan. 25, 2013 -- beat Cornell 3-2 on road. Wilson scored at 2:28, with assists from Obuchowski and Balch.
March 3, 2013 -- beat Colgate 4-3. Balch scored unassisted at 4:57, with three seconds left in the extra period. OTs in regular season are only five minutes.
March 29, 2013 -- beat Gophers 3-2. Jesse Root scored at nine seconds, before anyone was ready. Media members didn't see it apparently, Don Lucia didn't see it, he said, nor did his goalie.
How unfair of Yale to start playing in overtime before the Gophers were ready.
Yale is now 5-0-3 in overtime games. The Gophers? Their record is 1-1-5.
The Gophers got the puck in Yale's zone at the start of the game and kept it there for the first 30 seconds or so. ... But then Kyle Rau and Seth Helgeson were soon in the penalty box for committing unnecessary penalties, and the Elis were settling in. Getting power play chances.
Yale had six shots in the first seven minutes.
Rau had a chance at the side of the net. And Nick Bjugstad had a good chance from the side late in the opening period that hit the far post. The puck gods were not going to be with the Gophers this game.
"You have to get your nose bloody a couple of times to see how you respond. I think we saw a pretty good response," said Keith Allain, whose team squandered a 2-0 lead in the third period but won anyway.
First-day results: Hockey East 2-0, ECAC 1-0, WCHA 1-3, Atlantic Hockey 0-1.
PRO DRAFT PICKS
Of the Gophers 27 players, 15 have been taken in the NHL draft:
1. Jr. D Mark Alt, 2nd rd. in 2010 by Carolina
2. So. F Seth Ambroz, 5th rd. in 2011 by Columbus
3. Jr. F Nick Bjugstad, 1st rd. in 2010 by Florida
4. So. F Travis Boyd, 6th rd. in 2011 by Washington
5. Jr. F Zach Budish, 2nd rd. in 2009 by Nashville
6. Jr. F Nate Condon, 7th rd. in 2008 by Colorado
7. Jr. F Erik Haula, 7th rd. in 2009 by Wild
8. Sr. D Seth Helgeson, 4th rd. in 2009 by New Jersey
9. Jr. D Justin Holl, 2nd rd. in 2010 by Chicago
10. So. F Christian Isackson, 7th rd. in 2010 by Buffalo
11. So. D Ben Marshall, 7th rd. in 2010 by Detroit
12. So. F Kyle Rau, 3rd rd in 2011 by Florida
13. Fr. D Mike Reilly, 4th rd. in 2011 by Columbus
13. Fr. D Brady Skjei, 1st rd in 2012 by NY Rangers
14. Fr. G Adam Wilcox, 6th rd. in 2011 by Tampa Bay
Breakdown by rounds: 1st -- 2, 2nd -- 3, 3rd -- 1, 4th -- 1, 5th -- 1, 6th -- 2, 7th -- 4.
THE BEHIND-THE-SCENES GOPHERS
These players were on the Gophers 27-man roster this season but rarely if ever played, so the U played with a 20-man roster basically:
Ryan Coyne, freshman backup practice goalie
Christian Horn, freshman forward
Matt LaPrade, freshman goalies ... heard he had a medical issue
Jared Larson, sophomore forward ... played four games
Connor Reilly, freshman forward ... ACL surgery on knee
Ryan Reilly, freshman forward ... played eight games
Mike Shibrowski, junior goalie ... played three games
With ticket sales for the West Regional being a little sluggish, the organizing committee for the West Regional decided on Friday to start selling single-session tickets on Friday. Seats available are at the club level in the end zones. The price is $57 for both games on Saturday or for championship game on Sunday.
Here are the full details on the University of Minnesota web site.
Two-day ticket packages remain available, too, at $94.
UND JERSEYS UNVEILED
The North Dakota hockey team wanted to keep what its new jerseys would look like a secret until the players came on the ice on Saturday for their 12:30 p.m. game against Western Michigan.
But that plan went kaput once the first media member got a hold of the NCAA tournament program. It has a team photo of the team in its new jerseys. The story in the Grand Forks Herald is here.
The jerseys have an old school look. On the front of the jersey is each player's number in the middle, with the word North on top of the number and the word Dakota below it. The jersey is mostly white with green shoulders.
The NCAA told UND it could not use its nickname or American Indian-related logos in the national tournament.
EX-GOPHER TURNS PRO
Bemidji State forward Drew Fisher of International Falls has signed with the Tulsa Oilers of the CHL. He had three goals and one assist in 38 games with the Beavers this season. Fisher played for the Gophers for two seasons before he transferred to BSU.
UMD coach Scott Sandelin on 100.3-FM this morning:
* "The first two series this season we were 1-3 and people were wondering what was going on." The Bulldogs split with Notre Dame and were swept by the Gophers in their first four games.
* On two-OT loss to Denver in the Final Five semifinals: "We started slowly and dug ourselves a hole." UMD fell behind 3-0 before tying game 3-3 to send it into overtime.
* On DU's Jason Zucker, a Wild forward prospect: "I would be fine if they signed him and got him out of there early."
Nate Schmidt, a sophomore defenseman, is the fourth-leading scorer on the Gophers with three goals and 35 assists for 38 points. He was asked his ideas on five topics this Wednesday.
1. Would you like to play North Dakota again? "Absolutely. You are focusing on the game on Saturday, but obviously it is in the back of your mind a little bit. It would be great to have another shot in the same building with the stakes a little higher."
(UND beat the Gophers 6-3 in the Final Five semifinals last week.)
2. What does making NCAA tournament mean for the seven seniors on the team? "It is a little bit excitement, a little bit tense, anxiety. We are ready to go for this weekend. And one of the things that is tough for us is this waiting game. Waiting for this weekend to come. We are just ready to go for a great weekend, hopefully. The seniors, they are taking control almost as if ... we have been here before."
(None of the Gophers have played in an NCAA tournament game.)
3. Thoughts on coach Don Lucia: "He is much more focused. I don’t think he has so much burden on his shoulders trying to deal with a lot of different things, which is one thing coach [Mike] Guentzel brought. He was able to take some of the pressure and tension off coach Lucia. ... It’s let him be a lot more relaxed. In the locker room, he is joking around with the guys.
"Winning cures a lot of things. I am sure coach will tell you the same thing, that he feels much better. It is coming back year by year. He looks great. He has a lot more confidence in himself and our team as well.
"[Success] all starts with a great coach and you can’t get anywhere without guys who have experience and guys who have been there before and know what it takes to win. We have a coaching staff that brings all types of unique experiences to the table. ... They all know what it takes. They all bring a unique dynamic to the team that is vital to our success."
Schmidt said there was a lot of uncertainty last spring about Lucia, who hadn't signed a contract extension, and perhaps about changes on his staff.
"It was a tough situation to be in all spring. And once coach found [everything] out, we all kind of buckled in. He kind of buckled down, too: 'OK, guys, we have to change a little bit. I know i have to change a little bit.' ... He seemed like a new, revamped guy after that. It really helped him as a person and it helped us as a team."
4. Thoughts on whether the Gophers can win four games in a row and become national champions? "If we play our best hockey, it is evident we can play with a lot of teams. We can play a lot of different styles in order to beat different teams."
5. Thoughts on how important the mental part of hockey is? "There is a guy last year that i am still in contact, Shawn Goodsell of Mental Edge. He is one of our sports psychologists guys that comes in. We go through a series of tests and he kind of breaks down our personalities through these tests.
"He just tries to say where we are at in the mental part of the game. ... What he told a lot of us was [about the importance of] being able to have short memory. ... This is definitely a good week for us to have a short memory."
The mental part of hockey, Schmidt said, " is the most important part. If you are not mentally dialed in. your body might be doing one thing, but your mind might be doing another thing. If you are not mentally focused on the game, you are not at your best."
Bonus question: What is the key to winning? "Coach has given us sheets, stat sheets the whole year. In the games we had less turnovers and more blocked shots, the games we were more dialed in, you see our record go up in the win column."
See the coaches are tryingt to support their words with statistics. Whatever works.
Sophomore center Nick Bjugstad was quizzed on everything Wednesday at the weekly media day the Gophers hold. Here are some of his answers.
1. Thoughts on Gophers coach Don Lucia: "He has got a great history, two national championships back to back. I watched coach Lucia coach both those teams. i always looked up to him. He is a Minnesota icon in my eyes.
"He is a big reason I am here. He is a great coach. And [there’s] great tradition within the program.
"We are just applying more of the stuff he is telling us this year as opposed to last year. The coaching staff has done a really good job with us this year."
2. Thoughts on being in an NCAA regional for the first time in four years? "Playing at the Xcel will be awesome, playing in front of our home crowd. We can’t be just happy to be there. We have not made it the last couple of years, the last three years. Our goal is to make it to the Frozen Four. That is the main goal, so we want to make sure we bring it every game.
"We haven’t seen BU this year. They haven’t see us either, so we are boat in the same boat. We will watch video. We will see their tendencies and their better players. We will be prepared for what they have. I know they are a hard-working team, they are very physical and we will be on a smaller ice sheet. At the Xcel, it will be a gritty game. and i think it will be exciting for everyone.
"I am super excited to play in the NCAA tournament. It will be awesome but, like i said, we don’t want to stop there. We want to keep going from there."
3. Thoughts on the loss to North Dakota last week: “We have had a little chip on our shoulder the past couple of weeks [days of waiting seemed a lot longer for Bjugey] just because of that loss. We had them and we just kind of, for the lack of a better term, we kind of choked. We learned from that. And I think it will be a good learning experience down the road. We will deal with some adversity. I’m sure in the next couple of games, there is going to be some good teams."
The Gophers were back practicing the next day, Saturday, after losing to UND. " It was tough. Obviously, we knew we could have been playing on Saturday if we put the third period together. We had to move on. we all knew we were going to be in the [NCAA] tournament. We were guaranteed a spot. ... We had a pretty good practice. Everybody was working hard, and we had a good attitude."
4. Thoughts on maybe playing UND again: "You can’t really look ahead to it. They are in the same bracket as us. They are really hot right now. If it does end up that way I am sure it will be a great game.
"We proved we could basically play with anyone. [To] take a lead like that early in the game, it was good. But we kind of sat back on our heals and it was tough experience, especially in front of our home crowd. We learned from that, which is going to be big going down the stretch."
5. Thoughts on goalie Kent Patterson, who gave up five goals in under 10 minutes in the third period against UND: "He is a great goaltender. Everyone is going to have a hiccup here and there. We rely on him heavily, but we have to do a better job in front of the net, get sticks, which we didn’t do against North Dakota this past game. I am sure he is going to have a little chip on his shoulder as well and he is going to take that to heart and play really well this Saturday.
Bonus topic. Thoughts on Gophers women's team winning NCAA title on Sunday: "We see a lot of those girls [weight]-lifting and we skate with them sometimes. So it is a great honor for them and we are proud of them."
FYI: Since missing the first Wisconsin game on March 2, Bjugstad has one goal and one assist in four games. He was injured Feb. 25 in the second game of a series at Nebraska Omaha. The Gophers' one game-and-out in the Final Five enabled him to get a little extra rest for this weekend.
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