It's tough to write anything remotely positive after watching the Gophers get embarrassed on national television, but with the 6-1 loss to Boston College in the rear view mirror, 2011-2012 remains a good year for the University of Minnesota hockey program.
That's not to say losing by a score that is more fitting for the Class A semifinals than the NCAA hockey semis is acceptable by any stretch of the imagination. It isn't. Thursday's loss to the Eagles saw a recent pattern of Minnesota's defense giving up goals in pairs continue and like the 6-3 loss to North Dakota in the WCHA Final Five it was too much to overcome. Every time the Gophers gave BC an opportunity by whiffing the puck or taking a penalty, they were able to take advantage and became stronger as the game went on.
In some aspects, Thursday's Frozen Four semi was like watching a Minnesota game from the opponent's perspective.
The dagger for the Gophers came at the end of the second period. Parker Milner, who has been outstanding in goal for Boston College throughout the 2012 NCAA Hockey Tournament, blocked a wide-open shot by Jake Hansen (Columbus Blue Jackets). The ensuing shift saw the Eagles take advantage of a whiffed pass by Jake Parenteau and what could have been a 2-1 game suddenly was 3-0 and en route to a rout.
That's the kind of night it was for Minnesota. Milner looked beyond human at times, making sure the Gophers didn't score when they had the better chances over the first 35 minutes while the Eagles took over in a 10 minute stretch at the end of the second and beginning of the third period. Hansen was able to finally score to break the shutout (and the first goal BC allowed in 193 minutes) but the Hockey East champs responded 49 seconds later. They showed why they've been unbeaten since January 21st and that between their offensive depth and goaltending, they can shut down the highest scoring offenses (of which BC's beaten the top two in their last 2 games).
All in all, Boston College deserves a lot of credit for defeating a national title contender in the fashion they did.
For Minnesota, losing 6-1 to Boston College will be embarrassing for the near future but it doesn't sum up their season. The Gophers entered the year picked to finish sixth in the WCHA after missing three consecutive NCAA tournaments and not living up to the great history of the program. Six months later, they won the MacNaughton Cup and ended the season in the Frozen Four semifinals. They were the last WCHA, Minnesota college and Big Ten team left at the end of the season, had a remarkable turnaround and most importantly they got their swagger back as a team that others fear.
The team will lose seven seniors (most notably goalie Kent Patterson [Colorado Avalanche], Hansen and captain Taylor Matson [Vancouver Canucks]) but return their entire defense and five of the top-six forwards provided Nick Bjugstad (Florida Panthers) and Erik Haula (Minnesota Wild) return for their junior seasons.
The 6-1 loss will be something that fuels Minnesota players throughout summer workouts for next season but even in a program like Minnesota, whose expectations can sometimes border on impossible, 2011-2012 has lived up to them.
ESPN Coverage Leaves Something To Be Desired
As disappointing as the Gophers game was, it wasn't as bad as ESPN's coverage at times.
In a year that's seen NBC Sports Network, BTN and CBS Sports Network show more games nationally than ever before, the coverage by The Worldwide Leader left something to be desired. While they have the rights to college hockey's postseason tournament as part of a bigger package of college sports (and just re-upped that deal along with moving the final off of ESPN for ESPN2 for the first time ever), it shows that ESPN broadcasts a grand total of zero regular season college hockey games. Names were mispronounced (Don Loosia was a classic by the normally great Gary Thorne), facts were not double-checked and the production was off.
And that doesn't count games being bumped for baseball and golf, leaving ten seconds after the final whistle for tennis reruns and the games continuing to buried on ESPNU or tape delay. Its 2012, who tape delays games? If lacrosse, which has a similar regional niche to hockey, can get their entire tournament broadcast live there's no excuse for puck to be left in the 1980s.
When Barry Melrose of all people is in the positive section, it's not right.
Here's the thing, even as the "hockey guy" I like watching ESPN. Even seven years after losing the rights to the NHL, they have two of the better hockey guys in John Buccigross and Gary Thorne and their studio production is something rival NBC Sports Network could take a page. I can even understand the NHL getting ignored on Sportscenter in lieu of promoting their own interests to the point of overkill but when they have the rights to college hockey it shouldn't be painted with the same brush.
The minimum is not acceptable for the Worldwide Leader and with hockey fans already believing ESPN hates the sport, having coverage that leaves more to be desired doesn't help change that belief.