Hockey and Minnesota go hand in hand, fitting in nicely with the likes of hot dish and ice fishing. But in Minnesota hockey, there lies a unique phenomena. In many ways, after the relocation of the Minnesota North Stars to Dallas in 1993, the Golden Gophers became the state's unofficial team. The seven year period that Minnesota experienced with no professional ice hockey team cultivated an atmosphere of increased fan following, immense pride, and growing loyalty towards the realm of collegiate hockey. Thus began the makings of the Gopher Hockey Dynasty.
For the last decade, the Gophers' men's and women's hockey teams have ruled the NCAA. Their consistency of appearances at Frozen Four tournaments, numerous winning record seasons, and extensive NCAA championship titles have proven this. In 2002 and 2003, head coach Don Lucia led the men's team to back-to-back NCAA championships, and in 2004 and 2005, the women's team, under Laura Halldorson, experienced the same back-to back championship success.
But a team's success should not be judged solely on number of championship titles, for there is far more than that to be proud of in the span of any season. Consistency, for example, is a great indicator of a well-oiled team. The men's team have been Regular Season Conference Champions for six of the last ten years, four years in the WCHA conference and two in the Big Ten. The same has been true for the women. But why has Minnesota Hockey been so consistent over the last decade? And how have we continued to draw large audiences and a following equal to that of a professional team?
Consistency is a great indicator of a well-oiled team.
If you go back and look at trends in winning years, the answer seems to lie in a combination of a certain breed of coaching staff and players that, over the last twenty years, the U has been able to sustain and reproduce. This, we can assume, has been the foundation off of which the teams have made their massive success in the last decade.
Especially in the case of men's Gopher Hockey, the position of head coach is treated as almost a position of nobility, in which the predecessor hands off the torch to the next figure in line. This is not to say that there is a tyrannical ruling in the realm of Gopher Hockey, not at all. Instead, one feels privileged and honored to take up the position, and those under him admire him for the position he holds. John Mariucci, Herb Brooks, Doug Woog, and Don Lucia are just a handful of the influential commanders this men's team has seen. And before you go and accuse me of being too romantic about the success of Gopher Hockey as a whole, I say to you, the numbers don't lie.
... the numbers don't lie.
Since 1936, the Minnesota Golden Gophers have had at least one representative in every bout of the Winter Olympics. And that success has carried on at home, too. Since the 2010 regular season, twenty-three former Gophers have played for teams all over the nation in the NHL, including a handful who chose to stay and play for the Minnesota Wild. Current head coach, Don Lucia, has been with the team for sixteen years, and has even coached his son, Tony Lucia, during part of his tenure. Sometimes referred to as "the Don," he has been a mainstay in Gopher Hockey since 1999, and continues to be a large part of their overall success. Flanked by former Gopher and 2002-2003 champion, Grant Pultony, and Mike Guentzel as assistant coaches, the trio have been an intimidating force in college hockey for quite some time.
We can only imagine that, if there were an equivalent to the NHL for women, the Gopher women would have a similar story. Because, let's be honest, the women - in more ways then one - have had even more success in the last decade then their male counterparts. They have been crowned NCAA Champions as recently as last season, when they beat Harvard 4-1, and have been wearing that crown for three of the last four years (2012, 2013, and 2015). Needless to say, these girls are on fire, and this current season looks no different. Not even half way through, and already head coach Brad Frost has the team at a 9-1-0 record. Sounds amazing, right? Well let me take you back to the 2012-2013 season, when the Golden Gophers Women's Hockey team finished the regular season with an unheard of 41-0-0. That's not a typo. 41-0-0. No losses, no ties, all wins - the national championship title was just the cherry on top. So when I say Gopher Hockey "Dynasty," this is the type of success I am eluding to.
That's not a typo. 41-0-0. No losses, no ties, all wins - the national championship title was just the cherry on top.
Between their overall consistency in post season appearances, and a winning factor manufactured by an amalgam of profound coaching staffs and world-class players, the Gopher Hockey Dynasty has made a resurgence in the last decade. Whether it will continue on in future seasons is still unanswered. What can safely be said though, is that as long as Minnesota continues to be the "State of Hockey,", and fans continue to be loyal to maroon and gold - as well as red and green - it seems impossible that the passion towards our beloved sport will ever die or fade away, and Minnesota's "Pride on Ice," will live on.