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.
I was sure it was an April Fool's joke when the "news" broke on twitter that George Gwozdecky and the University of Denver had parted ways.
Turned out it wasn't. And now Mike Chambers of the Denver Post is reporting, according to sources, that the Gwoz was fired.
Supposedly the early NCAA losses -- first game exits in five of the past six years -- were wearing on DU's athletic braintrust. And allegedly they were having trouble agreeing with Gwoz on a contract extension. So again, according to sources, Gwoz will get paid for 2013-14, the last year left on the 12-year contract he signed way back when.
My first memory of the Gwoz goes back to 2008-09, my second year on the Gophers beat. The Gophers were on a roll -- 6-0-4 and ranked No. 1 in the country -- and had a road series at Magness Arena. They won the first game handily, 5-2 on Nov. 21. Then Gwoz mixes up the lineup, benches a few key underperforming players, and the Pioneers win the next night 4-0.
His record was amazing in that respect -- his teams never got swept in the WCHA. And I mean never. The Pioneers went several seasons without it happening. And his teams won 20 games per year like clockwork. For 12 years in a row in this current stretch.
The Gwoz was not afraid to shake up his lineup. Or to speak his mind.
And then, after the game, he came up to the press box and sat at a table with the local writers and shot the breeze. Who else does that?
I always liked him. Even though there was a bit of I'm-smarter-than-you-are arrogance to him. He didn't just give you canned answers to questions.
He'll land on his feet somewhere. Coaching job will open up after the hockey season ends. Maybe a few before it ends.
Just so he stays out of the new Big Ten Conference; he beat The Don's teams pretty regularly.
A HIGHLY SUCCESSFUL YEAR
That's what Gophers play-by-play announcer Wally Shaver called this season on the Don Lucia radio show. But was it?
The Gophers were coming off a Frozen Four appearance after a horrendous stretch of no NCAA trips at all in three years.
The Don had six of his top seven scorers back, all six of his top defensemen back and just needed a goalie. And he found one in freshman Adam Wilcox who set a program record for lowest goals-against average.
With all that, surely, the Gophers would win their sixth national title -- their openly stated goal? Nope. Surely they would reach the Frozen Four? Nope.
Win the Final Five? Nope. How about another MacNaughton Cup? They shared it with St. Cloud State.
This was an underachieving team that way too often played down to the level of its opposition. That had to get punched before responding. It was 7-0-0 after losses until losing 3-2 in overtime to Yale in the West Regional semifinal.
But it lost or tied to everyone in the WCHA except one team, 11th Bemidji State, which it played only twice.
This was the year for the Gophers to win a title, with the Bjugstads, Haulas and Schmidts. That's why Bjugtad came back, for unfinished business after flirting with turning pro.
There was no dominant team in the NCAA field like Boston College a year ago. With 15 NHL picks, the Gophers had as much talent or more than anyone. This was their year and, yet, at the end something was missing.
They pressed on the accelerator in the third period against Yale, tied the score and gave a slight sigh of relief and the season was over. In nine seconds.
That game should never have gone into overtime.
The team with less talented wanted it more and took it.
DIFFERENT FROZEN FOUR
"Anybody can beat anybody" in the NCAA tournament, Lucia said on his Monday radio show. "It is a matter who is playing well on a particular weekend.
"Yale played well. They have a veteran coaching staff. ... They are 4-0 against the WCHA. They earned their way in [to the Frozen Four] by beating us, beating North Dakota. They got it done this weekend. It is something we have to live with it."
The Elis or Bulldogs, Yale goes by both nicknames, beat Colorado College and Denver in overtime in November before wreaking more havoc on the poor WCHA last weekend.
Jesse Root, who scored the goal that beat the Gophers, was the West Regional MVP.
This will be Yale's first appearance in a Frozen Four in 61 years. But they have been knocking on the door. Coach Keith Allain has had them in the NCAA tournament in four of the past five seasons.
The Elis lost to the eventual champion, Boston College in 2010 and Minnesota Duluth in 2011, on two of those trips. Still their NCAA record was 3-5 all-time coming into last weekend.
When they were in the Frozen Four in 1952, the event was held in Colorado Springs, Colo., and wasn't even called the Frozen Four. Two of the best teams from the West and two from the East were invited to play. Yale lost its first game there.
Michigan beat Colorado College 4-1 for the national championship that year.
Yale is the first Ivy League team in the Frozen Four since 2003 when the NCAA tournament was expanded from eight to 16 teams.
But Yale isn't the only team new to the Frozen Four. The other three regional champions -- St. Cloud State, Quinnipiac and UMass-Lowell -- are all first-timers.
Yale draws UMass-Lowell in the semis on April 11.
"I was impressed with St. Cloud" in the Midwest Regional, Lucia said. "They played very well, very opportunistic."
Lucia drove to Toledo, Ohio, from Grand Rapids, Mich., to watch SCSU and Notre Dame, its opponent in the championship game. Don's son Mario is a freshman forward for the Irish.
"It was a long weekend," Lucia said. "[The Irish] didn't play at same level as they had before in the CCHA tournament. ... I was happy for Bob [SCSU coach Bob Motzko]. He is a friend."
Motzko was on Lucia's staff with the Gophers before taking the SCSU job.
"Anybody of the four could win it," Lucia said, referring to the teams in the Frozen Four.
Denver has announced hockey coach George Gwozdecky will leave after 19 seasons. A national search will commence immediately for his replacement.
The Pioneers recently finished their final season in the WCHA. Gwozdecky compiled a 443-267-64 record with DU and is on the verge of 600 career wins.
His overall record is 593-391-85. His team was 20-14-5 this season, 14-9-5 in conference. But the Pioneers lost in the first round of the WCHA playoffs to Colorado College and did not make the Final Five. They were also bounced in their first NCAA tournament game.
Both sides took the high road in the breakup.
“We certainly wish George the best in his future endeavors and we are thankful for his 19 years at the helm of our hockey program,” said Peg Bradley-Doppes, vice chancellor for athletics and recreation, according to a DU news release.
“He certainly had his fair share of success, returning the program to the pinnacle of the collegiate hockey world during our great run in the middle of the previous decade. In addition, he has always run our program with class and professionalism, which has certainly made our fans proud to be Pioneer supporters.
“We must now turn our attention toward a new direction for our hockey program with another innovative coach taking the lead for our inaugural season in the newly formed National Collegiate Hockey Conference.”
The Pioneers captured two NCAA Championships, three WCHA regular-season titles and four WCHA playoff titles during Gwozdecky's 19-year tenure.
“It has been an honor and a privilege to be the varsity hockey coach at the University of Denver for the past 19 years,” Gwozdecky said. “I’m extremely proud of the work that we have done to continue to build on the great Pioneer hockey tradition.
"Our consistency of success on the ice and in the classroom over the years has been a focal point of our work and I am very proud of what we have achieved. I will forever cherish the relationships that we have built in the Denver community with our fans, our staff and most importantly our former and current players. I want to wish them all the best.”
Gwozdecky will address the media in a news conference 10 a.m. Tuesday.
The Gophers had trouble beating Gwozdecky's teams in recent seasons. But his departure means less now because both teams will be in different conferences next season.
This regional matches up two WCHA teams with two Hockey East teams. My guess is that fans of the Wisconsin and Denver will support the other on Friday and make some noise.
Doubt the seeding matter much in these two games. Look like two toss-ups.
Verizon Wireless Arena, Manchester, New Hampshire
Friday's first semifinal, 3:30 p.m.
No. 1 Massachusetts-Lowell (26-10-2) vs. No. 4 Wisconsin (22-12-7) ... ESPN3 or ESPN syndication
Friday's second semifinal, 7 p.m.
No. 2 New Hampshire (19-11-7) vs. No. 3 Denver (20-13-5) ... ESPNU or WatchESPN
Semifinal winners, 5:30 p.m. ESPNU or WatchESPN
Massachusetts-Lowell at a glance
Record: 26-10-2, 16-9-2 in conference to win Hockey East regular-season title for first time. Then beat Boston University 1-0 in Hockey East championship game this past Saturday to win conference tournament for first time.
NCAA history: Fifth trip but second in two years. Beat Miami 4-3 in first round last year, the lost 4-2 to No. 1 seed Union. ... Most recent appearance before last year was 1996. ... Won first game in last three NCAAs.
Vs. Wisconsin: 7-1-1 all-time against the Badgers. All meetins were between 1984-88. Met Wisconsin in first round of 1988 NCAA playing, losing 7-1 and tying 4-4. So Badgers won two-game, total-goal series 11-5.
Streaks: River Hawks have won five games in a row, 11 of past 12 and are 22-3-1 since early December.
Top scorers: Jr. F Joseph Pendenza, 13-23-36; so. F Scott Wilson, 15-19-34; jr. F Derek Arnold, 12-16-28.
Top defensemen: Jr. Chad Ruhwedel, 7-15-22 (captain); fr. Christian Folin, 5-15-20 (plus-14).
Goalie: Fr. Connor Hellebuyck, 1.39 GAA, .949 save percentage, 18-2-0 with five shutouts. Named MVP of the Hockey East tournament, stopped 70 of 71 shots in last two games.
Coach: Norm Bazin, second year at UMass-Lowell. In first season, improved River Hawks win total from five to 24 -- largest turnaround ever by a rookie coach and was Hockey East coach of the year. Played for UMass-Lowell from 1990-94, later assistant at Colorado College for eight years.
Minnesotans on active roster: 0, closest is Jake Suter from Flambeau, Wis.
The quote: "The team that wins is the team that can make an important play at a crucial time,” coach Norm Bazin said according to a UMass-Lowell news release. “”It will be a fun game; it will be a challenging game. You've got to get to pucks first, both defensively and offensively. You've got to be hungry, win one-on-one battles. All of those are things that we do well.”
Intangibles: Verizon Center Arena is a short drive from Lowell, so River Hawks fans should fill up the building. ... Team has two trophies and confidence. ... Played in NCAAs last year, so players know what to expect. ... Maybe team of destiny with two firsts already, first Hockey East regular-season and tournament titles. First regional title next?
Wisconsin at a glance
Record: 22-12-7, 13-8-7 to tie for fourth place in WCHA, but won Final Five with three wins last week, including 3-2 over Colorado College in title game
NCAA history: Badgers have won six NCAA titles, startign from 1973, '77, '81, '83, '90 and 2006 ... This is 24th NCAA appearance, 40-20-2 all-time record. ... Lost to Boston College in 2010 Frozen Four in title game
Streaks: Have won six games in a row, 21-5-5 in last 31 games after a 1-7-2 start
Top scorers: Jr. F Michael Mersch, 23-13-36 (carried Badgers with scoring early in season); fr. F Nic Kerdiles, 10-22-32 (suspended first 10 games by NCAA); jr. F Mark Zengerle, 9-23-32; jr. F Tyler Barnes, 15-15-30 (seven goals in past eight games).
Top defensemen: So. Jack McCabe, 3-8-21 (captain of gold-medal winning U.S. team in World Juniors); sr. John Ramage, 8-11-19.
Goalie: Soph. Joel Rumpel, 1.85 GAA, .933 save pct., 16-8-4 with four shutouts.
Coach: Mike Eaves,11th season at Wisconsin. Led Badgers to NCAA title in 2006 when they beat Boston College 2-1 in Milwaukee.
Minnesotans on active roster: Six.
The quote: "I think that every team in this tournament can beat any other team," Eaves said. "We've seen that all year in our league and playing in our nonconference games. Any team in this 16-team tournament can win...The issue for us is maintaining what we have and keep rolling."
Intangibles: The Badgers are peaking at the right time. After averging 2.71 goals per game during the regular season, they are averaging 4.2 in five postseason games. Had to get in playoffs, one-and-done mode early because the only way they got into NCAAs was by the automatic bid which comes with winning the Final Five.
New Hampshire at a glance
Record: 19-11-7, finished in tie for third in Hockey East with 13-8-6 mark
NCAA history: This is 22nd NCAA trip and 11th in 12 years, missed 2012. .... Reached seven Frozen Fours, finished second in 1999 and 2003. ... 14-24 in NCAA games, including 0-2 vs. Denver. Lost to Pioneers 9-2 in first round in 1995 and 4-2 in seocnd round in 2005.
Vs. Denver: 4-9 all-time against Pioneers. But beat Denver 6-4 on road on Nov. 24. Fell behind 3-0 but rallied on hat tricks by Kevin Goumas and Grayson Downing.
Streaks: Inconsistent team, 3-3-4 in last 10 games. ... Have a power play goal in nine of last 10 games.
Top scorers: Jr. F Kevin Goumas, 10-32-42 (plus-18); soph. F Gryason Downing, 15-15-30; sr. F John Henrion, 14-10-24.
Top defensemen: Soph. Trevor van Riemsdyk, 7-24-31 (brother James for Toronto Maple Leafs); jr. D Erik Knodel, 10-10-20.
Goalie: Soph. Casey DeSmith, 2.24 GAA, .924 save pct., 18-9-7.
Coach: Dick Umlie, in 23rd season as Wildcats head coach. Has had 18 seasons with 20 wins at least.
Minnesotans on roster: None, closest is sr. F Scott Pavelskiof Plover, Wis. (brother Joe plays for San Jose Sharks).
The quote: "Maybe we are flying under the radar a little bit," Umlie said, "but we are capable of winning this. I don't see any dominant teams."
Intangibles: The Wildcats like being close to home, in New Hampshire. Umlie has taken a lot of teams to the NCAAs, nothing will surprise him. And Wildcats play everybody close; eight of their 11 losses were by one goal and they have seven ties.
Denver at a glance
Record: 20-13-5, 14-9-5 in conference to tie for fourth place.
NCAA history: This is 24th appearance, including six in a row. Pioneers have won seven NCAA titles, including 2004 and '05, reached 14 Frozen Fours. ... Have a good 27-19 mark, but are only 1-5 in their last six games.
Streaks: Opened season 9-1-0, then ran into a wall and went 0-5-3. Finished 11-7-2.
Top scorers: Jr. F Nick Shore, 14-19-33; sr. F Chris Knowlton, 13-16-29; (two defensemen); sr. F Shaw Ostrow, 12-11-26.
Top defensemen: So. Joey LaLeggia, 11-18-29; jr. David Makowski, 9-18-27.
Goalie: So. Juho Olkinuora, 2.28 GAA, .929 save pct., 13-5-5 with three shutouts
Coach: George Gwozdecky, 19th season. His teams won back-to-back NCAA titles in 2004 and '05. National coach of the year in 1993 and 2005, four-time WCHA coach of the year.
Minnesotans on active roster: None, but one player from Iowa and one from Wisconsin.
The quote: "You don't want to end your season like that," Gwozdecky said in a Denver Post story, referring to DU's lost to Colorado College two games to one in a first-round WCHA playoff series. "Certainly everybody on our team sees this as redemption, a second chance."
Intangibles: Is there a hex on DU, five one and dones in last six appearances? ... Pioneers had a chance to rest and heal with no games last week, so should play with a lot of energy. ... Defensemen are also dangerous. They have 32 goals and 89 assists for 121 points -- the most of any blue line corps in the nation this season.
Denver had a 2-0 lead, but Colorado College rallied to beat the Pioneers 4-3 Sunday night in deciding Game 3 of their best-of-three opening round WCHA playoff series at Magness Arena.
Sophomore right wing Charlie Taft, of Edina, scored the winning goal in the middle of the third period.
The Tigers will face North Dakota at 7 p.m. Thursday in the second Final Five quarterfinal at the X.
Denver had played in the past five Final Fives. Now the Pioneers have to wait to see they earn an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament. The 16-team NCAA field will be announced on Sunday at 6 p.m. on ESPNU.
The winners of the five conference tournaments receive automatic spots. Eleven teams receive at-large bids, which the PairWise ratings predict with near certainty.
Junior Nick Shore gave the Pioneers (20-13-5) lead on a power-play goal at 12:34 of the first period. A centering pass deflected to Shore in the slot and he buried a slap shot in the upper left corner.
Daniel Doremus made it 2-0 DU just 1:20 on a rebound.
CC began its comeback on Cody Bradley's shot from point-blank range at 3:51 of the second period.
Three minutes later, Bradley rushed up the right side and found Hunter Fejes for a one-timer that he put away for his seventh goal of the season to tie the score at 2-2.
Two minutes after that, the Tigers took a 3-2 lead on Ryan Schwartz's short-handed goal at 8:56 of the second. Schwartz took the puck away from Nick Shore along the wall at the Pioneers’ blueline and raced the length of the rink, beating Pioneers goalie Juho Olkinuora high to his stick side.
That's three goals in 5:05.
Junior defenseman David Makowski tied the game at 3-all early in the third when Nick Shore found him in the slot right off a draw.
Taft broke the tie at 9:49 of the third. He shot from the right circle, trying to put the puck in the corner. Instead, Olkinuora played the puck in mid-air and it deflected off his stick into the net.
Olkinuora made 22 saves. senior Joe Howe 37 for CC (16-18-5).
Howe, of Plymouth, played high school hockey at Wayzata. He made a big toe save on Nick Shore when he had a shorthanded breakaway.
"That's the difference in the series right there," DU coach George Gwozdecky said of Howe's save on Shore in a Denver Post story. "If we're up 3-0 at that point, game over, series over, I think. Howe makes an incredible save and they get right back in the game."
The Pioneers outshot the Tigers 40-26.
The Colorado Springs Gazette game story is here.
The Denver Post story is here.
Denver has announced it has signed four players for the 2013-14 season, including defenseman Matt Van Voorhis from Edina. They signed last month during the week-long early signing period.
“We are very excited and pleased about the addition of four quality student-athletes that will be joining the Pioneer hockey program in 2013-14,” Pioneers coach George Gwozdecky said. “Each of the incoming players will play a role that will help our program continue to compete for conference and national championships. We are looking forward to having them bring their talents to Denver next season.”
Van Voorhis, 5-7, 168, is playing his second season for the Sioux Falls Stampede of the USHL. He has three goals and nine assists in 25 games. He was a member of the U.S. national team developmental program from 2009-2011 and helped guide Team USA to a pair of gold medals at the 2011 Under-17 Four Nations Cup and the 2010 World Under-17 Hockey Challenge.
The other DU recruits:
* Will Butcher of Sun Prairie, Wis.
Butcher, a 5-10, 200-pound defenseman, is in his second year playing for the U.S. national team developmental program in Ann Arbor, Mich. He has four goals and seven assists in 24 games. He was a member of the U.S. team that captured a gold medal at the IIHF men’s World Under-18 Championship. Butcher played a majority of 2011-12 with the U.S. national U17 Team and had eight goals and 23 assists in 46 games. He is listed No. 20 on the NHL’s Central Scouting’s rankings of North American players.
* Brad Hawkinson of Aurora, Colo.
Hawkinson, a 5-11, 195-pound forward, is in his second season with the Lincoln Stars of the USHL. He has five goals and two assists in 20 games. Hawkinson was a member of the Colorado Thunderbirds (U-16), along with current Denver players Quentin Shore and Josiah Didier, which became the first triple-A team from the state of Colorado to win a Tier 1 National Championship in 2010.
* Trevor Moore of Thousand Oaks, Calif.
Moore, a 5-10, 175-pound forward, is in his second season with the Tri-City Storm of the USHL. He has 11 goals and 15 assists in 26 games. He was a member of the 2012 U.S. Under-18 Select team that competed in the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament. Moore is currently listed No. 15 on NHL’s Central Scouting’s rankings of North American players in the USHL.
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