Gophers men's hockey returns to prominence

  • Updated: December 17, 2012 - 12:14 AM

The 2010-11 season ended with the Gophers missing the NCAA tournament for the third consecutive season. But that crossroads season became a charmed year, and maybe this season can follow that pattern.

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Last spring the Gophers men’s hockey team made its first Frozen Four appearance since 2005. The Gophers lost to Boston College in the semifinals in Tampa, Fla., to finish the season with a record of 28-14-1.

Photo: Richard Tsong-Taatarii, Star Tribune file

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12 FOR The end of 2012 is quickly approaching. As such, we have compiled the top 12 Minnesota sports stories -- positive or negative -- from the year. We'll be counting them down every weekday from now until Jan. 1, when the top story will run. Here is No. 12:

The 2010-11 season ended with the Gophers missing the NCAA tournament for the third consecutive season. Particularly galling for Gophers fans that season: The Frozen Four was at Xcel Energy Center, where rivals North Dakota and Minnesota Duluth (which won it all) were playing.

There was ample frustration with head coach Don Lucia, whose equity from winning NCAA titles fairly early in his tenure in 2002 and 2003 seemed to be about used up. And there were no guarantees that 2011-12 would be any better. The Gophers were picked to finish sixth in the league in the WCHA preseason coaches poll, a finish that likely would have spelled another NCAA-free season.

But a crossroads season became a charmed year. Numerous factors -- among them the emergence of Kyle Rau, the brilliance of Nick Bjugstad, the goaltending of Kent Patterson and the return of associate coach Mike Guentzel to help lead the defense -- helped the Gophers claim the WCHA regular- season championship and an eventual berth in the Frozen Four.

This season has been more of the same, with the Gophers looking again like one of the country's elite teams, holding the No. 4 spot in the most recent USCHO.com poll, and perhaps gearing up for another run to the Frozen Four.

MICHAEL RAND

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