Sunday, March 4, 2012

Gopher Hockey: Back Where We Belong

With all the major MN pro and Gopher teams' seasons wrapping up, Paul Rome thought it’d be appropriate to honor his breakthrough Minnesota team of the year…none other than Gopher Men’s Hockey. Before Emperor Rome divulges why, he’d like to give a mad shout out to Blake Shelton for assembling the best team on this season of "The Voice" and PR enjoys your funny comments on the show too Mr. Shelton. Hoping to see you in concert sometime soon because you are a true country artist and a true amigo.

Alright, back to thought one. Paul Rome is thrilled to see Gopher hockey back on top of the WCHA for the first time in five years. The way MN sports has been going around here the past few years, it’s a real treat to see one of our hometown squads take home a conference championship and win one of the most prestigious team trophies in college hockey.

Prior to season’s start, PR believed in the Don Lucia to pull this team out of a three year NCAA playoff drought and get Goldy back in the NCAA dance. Paul Rome was not expecting a MacNaughton Cup, but in true Lucia form, he got it done with this overachieving group of Gophers. Maybe I should’ve saw this coming from game one of the WCHA schedule as the U went into Amsoil Arena to take on the defending national champions called UMD. Wild prospect Erik Haula’s pass went off a UMD skate and into the net to tie the game 4-4 with 44 seconds and the extra attacker on the ice. Paul Rome and all bar patrons pumped their fists in the air that night at Brine’s in Stillwater as Nate Condon ended it in OT to get the U off to an opening road sweep of the Bulldogs.

Other big season highlights include Kyle Rau’s late goal against North Dakota to complete the first home sweep of our neighbors to the northwest in a decade and Sam Warning finishing off a last minute 3-on-2 rush at St. Cloud to finish off the Huskies in the Granite City was picture perfect. The big sweep at Nebraska-Omaha a week ago to keep ourselves slightly ahead of UMD in the WCHA standings was also about as clutch as you can get.

Paul Rome has to credit the re-hiring of Mike Guentzel to coach our young D man as the main reason for the turnaround. We had one of the top goals against averages in the nation due to the improved play of the D and Kenny Patterson consistently giving us a shot and stealing games each night throughout the season.

This team has also owned the third period with a 47-18 advantage and has made many third period comebacks, including last night’s 2-1 victory over Wisconsin to win Mac outright. You can also credit this team’s success to Nick Bjugstad living up to every bit of the hype along with the emergence of Erik Haula and Mr. Hockey Kyle Rau. Those three have been nothing short of brilliant and Nate Schmidt’s offensive prowess has only added to the U’s arsenal with 30 assists on the year.

Barring another loss to Alaska-Anchorage in the opening round of the WCHA playoffs (this better not happen or Paul Rome will be burning on this topic), the Gophers should be a lock to get in the NCAA tourney. Last night’s victory was huge to keep the U off the NCAA bubble known as the Pairwise Rankings. Goldy was sitting at 7th going into the weekend and a Wisconsin sweep would’ve pushed us on the brink of that bubble where the 14th spot is where things get dicey.

Congrats to Don Lucia and our beloved Gophers for winning the WCHA regular season title for the 13th time. You now have to be the first Gopher team to win the MacNaughton Cup and NCAA title in the same season. That’s the goal I'm hoping for and I’m also hopeful for a St. Patty’s date at the X to play for the Broadmoor Trophy in the WCHA Final Five championship.

Paul Rome will be in St. Paul that day and is encouraging y’all to do the same for a hockey filled, NCAA March Madness happening, St. Patty’s day celebrating good time. That’ll be a lot of fun. Regardless of what happens the rest of the year, Gopher men’s hockey is my MN team of the year and have surpassed my pre-season predictions. Y'all know I'm a big Gopher hockey fan, but how can you say any other MN has surpassed their expectations this year besides Lucia's team? The Lynx are the only other MN team that I can bestow that honor too as well. To that, I say Ski-U-Mah and let’s bring home that NCAA title.

I’m Paul Rome and I am out!!

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