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.
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.
Gophers coach Don Lucia always says he understands that passionate fans sometimes get upset when his team loses.
If you read the message boards or the comments on recent stories in the Star Tribune on the Gophers, some are upset now.
"Don't blame the players, if you want to blame somebody. blame me," Lucia said on his final Monday radio show of the season. "That goes with the territory.
"You still have to look at the big picture and what the kids accomplished. ... It was a pretty good run for our guys."
And now it's over for some of them.
"Obviously, we will miss Seth Helgeson," Lucia said.
Helgy was the lone senior on the team this season. A big defensive defenseman. He was part of a class of four, including Zach Budish who had a medical redshirt year and is considered a junior now eligibility-wise.
But Helgy won't be the only Gopher leaving. Some will turn pro early, before their college eligibility is up.
"Now we have to wait to see what happens," Lucia said. "Some kids will make decisions over next week or so."
Lucia talks to all of his players after the season ends. And those who want to leave, he won't try to persuade them otherwise.
"We can't talk kids into staying, and we shouldn't," he said.
Lucia said he wants his players to have both feet in the program, not one foot out the door.
"And the last few years, the guys that stayed had both feet in," Lucia said.
Lucia said he also plans to watch a few USHL games soon to see how the players the Gophers recruited -- some of whom signed last November -- are looking.
"We will have a little injection of offense with some incoming freshman forwards, which I think we will need," Lucia said.
The Gophers needed some extra offense this season, too, as it turned out.
Freshman Connor Reilly, the Gophers most exciting offensive prospect coming into the season, didn't play a game. He suffered a preseason injury (torn ACL) at a team party and needed surgery.
He has started to skate with the team the last month. "He will be fine next year," Lucia said.
But he expects there won't be a next year for several of his top junior forwards.
After Friday's 3-2 overtime loss to Yale, team captain Budish said he will be back next season. But Lucia is not even sure about Budish, a redshirt junior who has been at the U of M for four years.
"Zach graduates this spring," Lucia said. "Nashville does want to sign him. It would be great if he comes back [as a grad student], but we understand if he doesn't. ... We will lose some good players, good kids."
The Predators drafted Budish several years ago.
The big risks of going early are Nick Bjugstad, who went well into the summer a year ago before deciding not to sign with the Florida Panthers. The NHL lockout was looming at the time. There is no such threat this year.
Erik Haula, the Gophers leading scorer with a career-high 51 points, is a Wild prospect and the team has seen him play a lot.
"Honestly, Bjugstad, Haula and Budish up front are juniors who have had good years, and [NHL] teams want them," Lucia said. "And [defensman] Nate Schmidt, being a free agent, people are knocking on his door."
THE NEXT WAVE
Expected to replace those forwards will be players like Taylor Cammarata and Justin Kloos of the Waterloo Black Hawks.
Cammarata. of Plymouth, is only 5-7, 156 but he has made a big impact on the USHL this season. In 53 games, he has 34 goals and 48 assists for a league-leading 82 points. He is a plus-32.
He has 24 points on power plays, including 10 goals, and has five game-winning goals.
This is Cammarata's second full season in the USHL. He turns 18 on May 13.
Only five points behind him, in second in USHL scoring, is Kloos. He finished high school at Lakeville South before playing in the USHL.
In his first full season of junior hockey, Kloos has 26 goals and 51 assists for 71 points. He is a plus-27 and has 28 points, including 10 goals on the power play.
Kloos is a litlte bigger, 5-9, 170, and older, at 19, than Cammarata.
Their team is in fourth place in the Western Conference of the USHL, still fighting for a playoff spot with two weeks and six games, four on the road, left in the regular season.
Waterloo is 33-21-4 (four overtime losses) this season, which adds up to 70 points. The Black Hawks are the highest scoring team in the USHL with 242 goals, but have given up 203, the third most in their conference.
Gabe Guertler, of Plantation, Fla., is another USHL forward that Lucia expects to be on the Gophers' roster next season.
He is about Kloos' size, 5-9, 178, and turns 18 on May 3. He has 31 goals and 20 assists for 50 points for Fargo in 58 games.
He is a plus-22, and has five shorthanded goals and seven on power plays. His goal total jumped from nine last season at Fargo to 31 this season.
A recent story on Guertler is here.
Then there isHudson Fasching, of Apple Valley. He is a fourth forward who will join the Gophers next season. He plays for the the U.S. national development team in Ann Arbor, Mich. He has 11 goals and 18 assists for 29 points in 57 games.
He has size. Fasching, who is 18, is 6-2, 214.
Lucia also mentioned Vinnie Letteiri as another possible forward next season. Lettieri is a scorer, too. He has 22 goals and 28 assists for 50 points in 57 games for Lincoln. He and Guertler are tied for 25th in USHL scoring.
Letteiri, who played high school hockey for Minnetonka, is a grandson of Lou Nanne's. He is 5-8, 170 and 18 years old.
So the Gophers will get younger and smaller up front.
But Lucia is optimistic. "Those guys will be able to bring it ... And four or five of them will come in," he said.
The Gophers will also bring in one defenseman for sure, Lucia said, and move junior Justin Holl back to that position, his normal position. He has played forward a lot this season.
THE DON SAYS
* On the Big Ten Conference: "It is going to be a little different. Going into a new conference, you don't have great feel for your opponents." The Gophers did sweep a series from Michigan State this season and played Wisconsin four times. The other three teams in the new conference will be Michigan, Ohio State and Penn State.
* On how to increase scoring in college hockey: "If you saw the Yale game, there were 25 blocked shots. ... I don't think it would hurt to make the goals a little bigger." He suggested putting the pipes on the outside of the present pipes. "[So] every time it hits the pipes now, [the puck] is in the net."
MOTZKO: NEUTRAL REGIONALS TOO COSTLY
St. Cloud State coach Bob Motzko does not want NCAA regionals to return to campuses -- at least not quite yet.
Regionals at neutral sites have not drawn well, Motzko said, but that is because tickets are over-priced.
He wants the NCAA to try regionals his way at least once. Cut ticket prices for everybody, Motzko said, then let youth in for $5. Give each school 250 tickets for students, then bus them in for more atmosphere.
"We were a fourth seed [in Toledo, Ohio]," Motzko said. "It wold have been very difficult for us to win at Notre Dame."
The Irish were the No. 1 seed and, under a plan being suggest by many, would have hosted the regional if the NCAA had gone back this year to campus sites.
* The Huskies leave for Pittsburgh, the site of the Frozen Four, on Tuesday of next week.
* Motzko is currently batlting a cold. And Motzko on SCSU going to Frozen Four: "There is nothing like the first time."
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.
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
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