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Updated: March 23rd, 2013 1:29am
Myers: Two Minnesotans sentence 'U' hockey to early exit from WCHA

Myers: Two Minnesotans sentence 'U' hockey to early exit from WCHA

by Jess Myers
1500ESPN.com

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Life is often a matter of separating your needs from your wants. The Gophers did not need to win a game at the WCHA Final Five to assure themselves a trip to the NCAA tourney. But they desperately wanted to close out their 60-plus years as members of the WCHA with one last banner to hang.

Upstart Colorado College and the Tigers' stingy defense proved on Friday via a 2-0 win that you can't always get what you want. But with an extra day of rest as they head into a NCAA regional next weekend, the Gophers might have gotten what they need.

The loss -- which marked the second time this month that the "U" has been blanked -- was not for lack of effort, at least in terms of getting pucks to the net. But two Tigers from the western suburbs spelled doom for the Gophers.

Goalie Joe Howe, a senior from Plymouth, stopped all 35 shots he faced, and top-line wing Charlie Taft, a sophomore from Edina, scored in the second period, giving the Tigers a date with Wisconsin in Saturday night's title game.

"They're playing to extend their year. That's why I think when you look at this week, both Wisconsin and CC have been the most consistent and the most determined teams," said Gophers coach Don Lucia, after his team went 0-for-3 on the power play. "They're doing a good job of getting in lanes with sticks and getting to pucks. The way we looked on the power play is kind of how some of our guys played tonight. They just couldn't find a rhythm to their game tonight."

While the loss likely means little for the Gophers in terms of their eventual seed in the 16-term NCAA field, it may have spelled doom for another Minnesota-based team. St. Cloud State, which tied the Gophers for the WCHA's regular season title, lost on Friday (see below) and is on the bubble for a NCAA invite. With either Wisconsin or Colorado College now guaranteed to be playing next weekend, it takes up an at-large bid which otherwise might have gone to the Huskies.

Trailing by a pair in the third, the Gophers' best chance to climb back in when Tom Serratore was leveled from behind by Joe Marciano of the Tigers, drawing a five-minute major penalty. But Colorado College blocked shots and iced the puck repeatedly, killing the penalty and taking the momentum away.

"Our defense, especially on the penalty kill, was unbelievable," said Howe. "Especially on that five-minute kill. We gave up one shot, and it wasn't a great scoring chance."

Rookie goalie Adam Wilcox, so strong all season, had perhaps his roughest game of the season, allowing Tigers goals on two of their first eight shots. He finished with 18 saves. Sam Warning was back in the lineup for the Gophers after a missing two games and had four shots on goal.

"For Sam not having played I thought he was involved in the game and was noticeable," Lucia said. "He had a back-door pass and just kind of whiffed on it, which kind of summed up our night. We had looks and just couldn't get much on it."

The Gophers would take no solace in not winning a game they didn't need to win and getting an extra day of rest as a result. But Lucia said that preparation for the NCAA tourney, where four wins are needed to hang another national title banner.

"We've been good about bouncing back," Lucia said. "When we lose a game we seem to be better then next time out and that has to happen again as we head into next week. Another week of practicing at Ridder will be good and getting ready for wherever we go."

The Gophers will learn their destination and opponent on Sunday night at 8 p.m. when the NCAA's tournament field is announced.

'Boring' Badgers roll into title game

When Mike Eaves took over Wisconsin's hockey program a decade ago, he admits there wasn't a ton of offensive talent in Madison, forcing his teams to play a grinding defensive style to win. There's more offense on the Badgers roster now, but they have the reputation for playing slow, boring defensive hockey, and they still thrive on frustrating opponents, as they did again Friday afternoon.

The Badgers managed just 21 shots on goal, which was enough in their 4-1 win over St. Cloud State, as Wisconsin advanced to the tournament's title game for the first time since 2000. The Huskies, despite tying for the league's regular season title, now must sit and wait to see if they get an invite to the NCAA tourney.

"Bubble trouble," said St. Cloud State coach Bob Motzko when asked to assess his team's chances of playing next week. The Huskies (23-15-1) have a 1-5-0 non-conference record, which is weighed heavily in determining the NCAA field. "We're 8-3-1 against the teams in this tournament before today, but our non-conference record is what's hurting us. We deserve to play again."

They didn't play badly on Friday, getting 31 shots on goal, but only one of them eluded Badgers goalie Joel Rumpel.

"That young man gave us a chance to get our feet under us early in the game," Eaves said. "I think the fact that Joel was playing so well kind of got in their heads."

Myriad announcements coming Saturday

In addition to crowning the final tournament champion for the modern WCHA, St. Paul will be home to plenty of hockey news on Saturday as a triple-header announcement will happen prior to the Final Five title game.

It's already been announced that the Big Ten postseason tournament will be held at Xcel Energy Center next season, and will rotate between there and Joe Louis Arena in Detroit every other year in the foreseeable future. The advisory for Saturday's announcement noted that WCHA officials and personnel from Van Andel Arena in Grand Rapids, Mich., will be present. It is expected that a rotation for the WCHA tournament between St. Paul and Grand Rapids will be announced.

USA Hockey officials will also be on hand to name the coach for the American entry in the 2014 World Junior Championships. Stillwater High School coach and long-time NHLer Phil Housley coached Team USA to the gold medal in Russia two months ago. Bob McKenzie of TSN in Canada Tweeted on Thursday that he expects Lucia to be named coach of Team USA.

Jess Myers covers the Wild and college hockey for 1500ESPN.com. He is a member of the editorial advisory board for USA Hockey Magazine.
Email Jess | @JessRMyers
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