thanks to INCH for the awesome headline. Absolutely follow those guys on twitter ..."/> thanks to INCH for the awesome headline. Absolutely follow those guys on twitter ..."/>

The S.S. Gopher is Taking on Water


thanks to INCH for the awesome headline. Absolutely follow those guys on twitter and, I’m not in the habit of sending people to others’ websites, but that is definitely one to check out.

Two years ago I had the Minnesota Golden Gophers as my preseason #2 team in the country. Their Sophomore goalie Alex Kangas had just had a great WCHA playoffs and looked like he was going to be making the leap to elite goalie. Ryan Stoa looked like he might be one of the best players in the country. Cade Fairchild looked like one of the best defensemen in the country. And they had a pair of Freshmen, Jordan Schroeder and Aaron Ness, who were part of one of the most heralded classes in the history of the school.

Minnesota started out hot that year, reaching #1 in most of the major polls. But a 9-10-2 record after Christmas, including a WCHA play-in game loss, doomed Minnesota as the school missed the NCAA tournament. Because Minnesota had every major returner other than Stoa returning to the 2009-10 team, and the fact that they got most of their tough road games out of the way early, led me to rank them fairly high in the preseason again. But Minnesota struggled all year, finishing under .500 and bowing out to North Dakota in a first round WCHA playoff series.

After winning back to back national titles in the previous decade, and going to the 2005 Frozen Four, the Gophers have had 1 NCAA tournament win: a come from behind win over #4 seed Air Force. They also lost to Holy Cross in the first round of the 2006 NCAA tournament in what is the most famous upset in the history of college hockey.

The Gophers don’t even have the albatross of high expectations going into next year. Nick Leddy, who as a Freshman was Minnesota’s best defenseman, has signed an entry deal with Chicago. Fellow Freshman Josh Birkholz, who would have been the 6th leading returning scorer, left after being suspended for “violating team rules” (aka smoking pot) and is headed to the WHL to play for Everett. Birkholz has a lot of talent but has always been known as a bit of an immature kid and while smoking pot isn’t the end of the world in my opinion, getting caught and putting not only your hockey career but your teammates’ upcoming season is extremely selfish.

The Gophers have long been able to recruit the “name” players from the state and surrounding areas, but lately it seems the coaching staff isn’t up to helping them improve. Either that or they have all been overrated before they got to campus. Cade Fairchild looked like a first team All-American early in his career, and has regressed. Jay Barribal went from 20 goals as a Freshman to 6 as a Sophomore and 11 as a Junior. Schroeder had 13 goals and 45 points on his way to being WCHA Freshman of the year in 2009, and had just 9 goals and 28 points last year, including only 5 in 28 WCHA games.

This year brings another group of blue-chippers, including first round pick Nick Bjugstad and touted Christian Isaackson. But with the recent lack of success of Minnesota’s recruits, I wouldn’t be surprised to see them not improve for a couple years before bolting to the NHL.

Gopher fans will be uneasy with Minnesota’s 8th or 9th place finish in the WCHA, and coach Don Lucia’s seat is getting awfully toasty.