With atmosphere lacking, Minnesota-Duluth turns promising rivalry game into a rout

Justin Crandall and Minnesota-Duluth put Minnesota in the rear-view mirror quickly (photo: Melissa Wade).

MANCHESTER, N.H. — Beauty and the Beast came to the Northeast Regional.

The early game was a beauty. Boston University and Yale battled into overtime, neither team ever holding more than a one-goal lead. BU, the top seed, scored on a goal set up by Jack Eichel, college hockey’s most exciting player, to advance to Saturday’s regional final.

While the stands were anything but full — the announced attendance was 5,123 in a building seating 10,103, no doubt reflecting the weekday 2 p.m. starting time — there was still an energy level befitting two somewhat local teams.

Then came the late game.

It held the promise of two strong teams with proud traditions, Minnesota and Minnesota-Duluth, in-state rivals, no less. Minnesota ranked as the fifth-best offense in the country, presumably a treat to watch even for locals who don’t know Eden Prairie from Ham Lake.

And for a while it lived up to that promise. The Minnesota Gophers came out flying in the first 10 minutes, but couldn’t capitalize on their chances.

Then, in the span of just six minutes, Minnesota-Duluth scored three goals, rocking the Big Ten champions. After Duluth pounded the final nail in the coffin midway through the second period to make it 4-0, not even Bela Lugosi could breathe life into the contest.

The game had become The Beast.

Fans from the early game who’d stuck around for a while to see the two teams from Minnesota left in droves, leaving behind what felt more like 512 fans than 5,123.

Playing a big rival in what felt like a mausoleum was something Minnesota-Duluth coach Scott Sandelin had anticipated.

“We talked about it a little bit,” he said. “We were hoping that some of the fans would stick around and not leave early, but some wore brown seats. It happens.”

The two rivals had kicked off the season at the Ice Breaker Tournament in an even more empty building in South Bend, Ind., and Minnesota had also endured a dead environment in the Big Ten tournament in Detroit.

“It is what is,” Sandelin said. “It was still fun. Once we got going, we got the energy from our bench.

“We didn’t need the crowd. Obviously, there wasn’t any.”

Sandelin quickly amended his words: “There were Bulldog fans, but not many of them. But we really didn’t need that.”

In truth, the Gophers were a no-show after the opening 10 minutes. Or perhaps more accurately, the Bulldogs turned them into a no-show. It was shocking even though Duluth had defeated the Gophers in all three matches since the Ice Breaker.

“We were emotionally flat at times tonight,” Minnesota coach Don Lucia said. “We basically had zero time in the offensive zone in the back half of the first and the second.

“I felt bad for the kids that they didn’t play their A game tonight.”

To their credit, none of the Gophers players or coaches blamed the lack of atmosphere on their poor performance, even though they’ve become accustomed to playing before energetic, packed houses on most nights.

“We got our first test of that in Detroit [at the Big Ten tournament], and we were fine with it,” Vinni Lettieri said. “There were more fans here than in Detroit.

“It wasn’t much of an impact for us. We just didn’t step it up ourselves. The crowd shouldn’t be our momentum. We should be able to self-motivate.”

No doubt, the Minnesota-Duluth fans in attendance were delighted to see their Bulldogs advance in any fashion, no matter how sleep-inducing the second half might have been. For fans of a team, a win in the NCAA tournament is like the proverbial face that only a mother could love.

And to Bulldogs fans, this one was a cutie, deserving of magazine covers.

For everyone else, however, this became a game that as it dragged on, desperately needed to be put out of its misery, a game whose last-half pinnacle was the video replay of an empty-net goal (disallowed due to a hand pass).

Fortunately for Minnesota-Duluth players and fans, they won’t be playing in a mausoleum Saturday. They’ll be taking on Boston University, little more than an hour’s drive away, and the game will be played on a weekend so fan turnout should be strong.

The Bulldogs will be facing negative energy from the crowd, but that beats ennui any day.

And if, by chance, they can force a second straight no-show out of their opponent, they’ll happily march on to the Frozen Four.

“Tomorrow will be fun,” Sandelin said.

27 COMMENTS

  1. Another good example of a reason to lower ticket prices. You know there is something wrong when nobody sticks around for the 2nd game, especially fans of the winning team when they are less than an hour from their town. The NCAA should be embarrassed.

      • Tickets to the game in Fargo were being sold online for $250-350. They could have had it in GF and all 11000 seats would have been sold. Demand was very high.

        • Of course tickets were in demand for a game in ND. ND was playing. But I’m guessing the folks from Minnesota, in addition to finding lodging and travel to get there, not knowing until 4 days before the games are played, decided not to make the trip. I agree that BU/Yale should have been in prime time but I think traveling by the Minnesota teams was the reasoning behind that.

          I admit I don’t have all the answers and maybe ticket prices aren’t the reason, but that crowd was putrid last night and not a good representative of college hockey

          Maybe the week break should be before the tourney starts to give the people traveling an extra week to make plans?

      • Yeah the day of the tournament when they are trying to get rid of them. My guess is a week ago when the matchups were announced, they were over $100 per ticket.

  2. Did anybody see that Fargo ND crowd? THAT’S HOW YOU DO IT. Congrats to the UND fan base for showing the rest of the world what a loyal fan base is. Looked like standing room only.

    • I seem to recall a regional final featuring North Dakota in Grand Rapids 2 years ago that had a listed attendance of under 2000 and had actually under 1000 in the stands. All last night proves is North Dakota fans will travel at least an hour to see their team. UMD and MInnie were not exactly driving distance from their fans yesterday, and certainly not as close as Grand Rapids MI is from Grand Forks ND. For the record, I think the Sioux DO have a great fan base. Just don’t make it sound like they always turn out when obviously they do not.

      • UND fans do attend away games. Look at the games in Denver. Those though are mostly fans who live out there. I do agree with you though if UND had been playing in any other regional there never would have been so many people there. It is not surprising at all that these regionals have such poor attendance. Not easy for people to get to games like this with a four day notice. I don’t think any schools fans are bad for not showing up. I commend those that do though. You are so right saying UND fans always turn out when they don’t. If it is less than a ten hour drive they will. If it is in Minneapolis or St. Paul they will show up in good numbers. Half of that though is an excuse to go to Minneapolis to shop and brag that they had gone.

        • Its true. Although a 70 mile trip from Grand Forks obviously makes it easier than going from Duluth or Mpls to Manchester, NH, the UND fans travel more than any other team. Plus knowing that Scheels Arena only holds 5500 fans, tickets were going to be in high demand.

      • Also – maybe it’s me, but considering the demand for tickets, I think the NCAA should find a way to let UND play at their home rink in the regional. If it is truly a business decision, driven by revenue, they should play in a big building.

  3. It’s pretty clear that they should have sent the MINN-UMD match up to South Bend, brought Harvard-UNO to Manchester, and put BU-Yale in prime time. I think there might have been a few less empty seats in both rinks…

  4. Felt really bad for Wilcox, he has earned much better than the effort that was put forth in front of him his last 2 tournament games.

    • That’s actually not true at all. Mariucci Arena sells out most of its home games all season long. And Penn St sold out their entire arena before the season started.

      • Not anymore in the BIG10. Heck, now you can actually get Season Tickets (during the WCHA days the waiting list for that was 5-7 years unless you made a sizable donation to the University).

        The BIG10 has had a detrimental impact on the Gophers — anyone who doesn’t see that has their head buried in the sand.

        • Yes, but they get all that TV money now, right? I have the B1g6 network and could hardly ever catch them on. Usually it was basketball, football or the ever important wrestling match. I liked it better when they were on FSN. At least you always knew you could see them if you wanted to.

          • The “TV money” thing is a myth. These B1G teams were already sharing in whatever revenue the B1G network generated and adding college hockey games to the mix hardly increases your audience. Besides, the B1G network was showing college hockey games from its inception. Like all things about the B1G this is about Delaney wanting everything to keep anyone else from getting anything. B1G “fans” care about football and a little about basketball. Minnesota or Wisconsin or MSU or UM HOCKEY fans care about hockey. Not nearly as much mixing of those two groups as the B1G officials thought there was.

        • Detrimental? 4 years in a row with Conference championship (WCHA and Big 10)? Last years runner-up? Add the tourney championship this year and another NCAA tournament appearance? I’m not seeing it. U of M is smart enough to stack their non-conference games – utilizing opponents who have good TUC year-in, year-out.

  5. Here is a thought I had yesterday watching the games about the fans. I was thinking that it would be real hard to spend the money to go, at the high expense it would be, for something that could be a quick one and done tournament. If UND had lost last night I think a lot of people would have been giving their tickets to St. Cloud fans for free. They are only two and a half hours away.

  6. These regionals need some new ideas to get people in the stands. How about a Regional in Grand Forks, Minneapolis, Boston and rotate the 4th between Manchester, Detroit, Hartford, Providence, Madison and Denver. Or any combination you like. Have them on the campus of the #1 seeds. They may have an advantage, but they deserve it for having a great year. Manchester did well with Lowell and UNH 2 years ago, but this year is ugly. North Dakota always makes the tourney so reward them. Boston has 10 teams within a 90 minute drive. Minneapolis is a natural. Instead of the Excel Center ( Which was half full last year ), have it on campus at Mariucci. Have it at BU, BC or Lowell.
    Something has to change.

  7. “For fans of a team, a win in the NCAA tournament is like the proverbial face that only a mother could love.”

    This is cute. Really? A win during the playoffs makes fans happy? I think even the most ignorant of hockey fans can figure out that wins are good, especially in the post-season.

  8. Seems to me there is just one way left for a Gopher fan to find some kind of a silver lining here, although many Gophers fans don’t give a rats arse about this kind of stuff. But…

    If Blais can get his Omaha team into the Frozen Four, that would make it 28 Frozen Fours for former Gophers as coaches in the NCAA tourney.

    Not sure why no one hires former Gophers anymore?

    From 1970-2001, 32 seasons, former Gophers won 8 Natl Titles, a Miracle on Ice Gold Medal, a Stanley Cup Title, and made got a team into 23 of those 32 Frozen Fours.

    Even more limited time frame, from 1970-1989, 20 seasons, it was 6 Natl Titles, the Gold Medal, a Runner-Up in the Stanley Cup and 18 teams into 20 of those Frozen Fours, and most of that was when only 2 western teams could even get in.

    I suppose Johnson died, then Brooks died, Buetow got let go so fast simply for having the highest winning percentage of any Gopher coach ever, but trying to follow Brooks they imposed far too high of standards upon him and when he couldn’t win a Title in his first few years, people lost faith in him, Woog’s Mn only recruitment policy basically did him in, and not sure why UND and Blais parted ways?

    Are most of the smart hockey players going to the NHL now and then coach NHL teams instead of going to coach college or don’t go into coaching at all after their NHL playing days are over?

    Maybe I am missing something? I know Stauber is a highly regarded Goalie Coach.

    Are there any rising stars in the coaching ranks among former Gophers that could be the next Dean Blais? Or maybe even could replace Lucia?! oops, I didn’t just type that, did I? lol

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