Friday, March 28, 2014

Smoke 'Em If You Got 'Em

March 24th, 2006 is burned into the memory of Gopher hockey fans as a day of infamy. That afternoon, the Gophers who were the #1 seed on the West Regional as well as being the top seeded team in the NCAA tournament, fell to #4 seeded (and #16 overall) Holy Cross. In overtime. In Grand Forks. In front of eleven thousand raucous Sioux Team That Shall No Longer Be Named fans who-in classic schadenfreude fashion- savored every single minute of the Gophers humiliating and bitter defeat.

The game is still regarded as one of the greatest upsets in NCAA tournament history and still remains an open wound for Gopher fans which rivals fans still eagerly pour salt into at every opportunity:

Some Gopher fans maintain that given the circumstances and the setting of that game, nothing could be worse than that lose. Or could it?

Consider the Gopher’s NCAA tournament opening game tomorrow afternoon against Robert Morris (it’s a school not a tobacco company). The Gophers are the #1 seed in the West Regional and Robert Morris is #4. The Gophers are the #1 overall seed in the tournament and Robert Morris is #16. Sound familiar so far?

Now consider the differences. In 2006, Holy Cross had a 26-9-2 record. This year, Robert Morris finished 19-17-5. In 2006, Holy Cross was ranked #21 in the PairWise rankings. This year, Robert Morris is ranked #44 in the PairWise rankings (remember there are only 59 teams in D1 college hockey). In 2006, the Gophers had to face Holy Cross in front of a crowd of mostly hostile North Dakota fans at Ralph Engelstad Arena in Grand Forks. This year, the Gophers will face Robert Morris in front of mostly friendly Minnesota fans at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.

By any objective measure, the Gophers losing to Robert Morris tomorrow would be a bigger upset than their 2006 loss to Holy Cross. Would it be worse? That’s more subjective and would be a judgment that individual Gopher fans would have to make for themselves. Here’s hoping it’s one that we don’t have to make.

For those Gopher fans looking for a reason to worry, consider the following. In 2006, the last two games the team played before the NCAA tournament were lackluster losses to St. Cloud State and Wisconsin in the WCHA Final Five in St. Paul. This year, the last two games before the tournament were lackluster loses at Michigan to close the regular season and against Ohio State in the Big ten tournament in St. Paul.

The best way for the Gophers to ease their fans nerves (and any they any might have themselves) would be to get up early and get up big tomorrow against Robert Morris. In any good can come of the 2006 loss to Holy Cross, it might be in serving as a timely reminder to this years’ team that you can’t take anything for granted at this time of year.