Gophers' OT title game loss the latest chapter in Minnesota sports heartbreak
Minnesota. The State of Hockey.
When you’ve got 10,000 lakes, and they’re frozen over for 4 months of the year, that’s the way it should be.
Yet in this state where kids learn how to deke just a few months after they learn to walk, it’s been 20 long years since the flagship school lifted an NCAA championship trophy.
Such a drought doesn’t feel possible. In the NHL, 18.2% of American-born players are from Minnesota.
Yet after Minnesota’s stunning 3-2 overtime loss to Quinnipiac in the NCAA championship game on Saturday night, the streak continues.
Mere minutes away from adding the 6th national title in program history, the Golden Gophers instead added another chapter to the increasingly long list of heartbreak to befall Minnesota sports teams.
Fortune favored the bold
Players win or lose games, but coaches can make decisions that tilt the table in either direction. And that was certainly the case for both Quinnipiac and Minnesota on Saturday night.
Gophers coach Bob Motzko hurt Minnesota’s chances in the third period by playing to hold on to a 2-1 lead rather than attempting to expand it.
After attempting 13 shots in the first two periods, the Gophers only got 2 pucks on the net in the third — and the 2nd shot didn’t come until after Quinnipiac’s game-tying goal.
The Bobcats were the aggressors for the entire final frame, with the game-tying goal a product of bold coaching.
Rand Pecknold, the program’s only head coach since it moved to Division I in 1998, decided he was either going to win his first national title or go down swinging. Pecknold pulled his goalie with 3:30 remaining, and less than a minute later Collin Graf added the equalizer.
Once down 2-0, the Bobcats had new life thanks to their coach’s bold approach. Just 10 seconds into overtime, Quinnipiac took the life out of the Gophers, taking its first and only lead of the game to clinch the championship.
And for the first time all season, Minnesota lost a game which it led after 2 periods.
OH MY GOD!! QUINNIPIAC WINS IT 10 SECONDS INTO OVERTIME! pic.twitter.com/fHwRF5H9Sp
— Spittin' Chiclets (@spittinchiclets) April 9, 2023
The scene shortly thereafter — a stick smashed over the crossbar, Gophers slumping to the ice — is one that has grown far too familiar for Minnesota sports fans. Or at least those fans who are based in the Twin Cities.
Though Minnesota-Duluth has won 3 national titles since 2011, Twin Cities sports fans have been enduring decades of postseason heartbreak.
The Gophers’ title game loss is just the latest entry among many datapoints.
Minnesotans, you may want to look away. Or if it’s more therapeutic, continue reading.
1997: Ski-U-Mah! The Gophers win the Big Ten men’s basketball title for the first time since 1982 and reach the Final Four for the first time ever. Until it’s removed from the record books 3 years later because it’s revealed a staffer was doing the homework of most Minnesota players.
The Gophers haven’t made it to the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament since the scandal. And, officially speaking, still haven’t won the Big Ten since 1982. Or ever reached the Final Four.
So even when Minnesota succeeds in the postseason, it somehow doesn’t actually count.
2006: You may be wondering if it is even possible to experience heartbreak in something called the Insight Bowl.
If you’re Minnesota, the answer is “yes.”
The Gophers had the game well in hand against Texas Tech, taking a 38-7 lead midway through the third quarter. But Mike Leach’s Red Raiders stormed all the way back, winning the game 44-41 in overtime. The 31-point comeback set a bowl game record, which has since been tied but never topped.
Minnesota fired coached Glen Mason 2 days later. Mason, who reached 5 straight bowl games, is replaced by goofball Tim Brewster, who goes 15-30 in 4 seasons.
2015-present: The Gophers have lost 8 straight football games to rival Iowa. Though that’s not a postseason heartbreak by definition, the 2019 and 2021 losses prevented Minnesota from playing in the Big Ten championship game. It remains the 1 hurdle coach PJ Fleck is unable to clear.
1969-76: The Vikings become the first NFL team to reach 4 Super Bowls. In the process, the Vikings also become the first NFL team to lose 4 Super Bowls.
1977-present: The Vikings haven’t returned to the Super Bowl for a 5th time because they are 0-6 in NFC Championship games.
1998: The most painful of those NFC title game defeats.
The 15-1 Vikings are on the verge of beating the Falcons when Gary Anderson misses a 38-yard field that would have given Minnesota a 10-point lead with 5 minutes left. Anderson hadn’t missed a field goal or PAT in 67 attempts all season.
Atlanta tied the game late in regulation before winning in overtime — the same model later replicated by Quinnipiac against the Gophers.
2009: With Brett Favre driving the Vikings toward a potential game-winning field goal in the NFC title game, the former Viking killer kills Minnesota 1 last time.
Throwback Thursday to when Paul Allen got heated after the Brett Favre interception pic.twitter.com/UIlLJj4zwi
— Main Team (@MainTeamSports) May 20, 2021
With the interception, the game instead goes to overtime. Which, if you’re noticing a pattern, is never a good thing for a Minnesota team.
2004-present: The Twins have lost an unfathomable 18 consecutive playoff games going back to 2004.
Minnesota has been swept 5 times by the Yankees, once by the A’s and once by the Astros. It’s a streak that defies all logical and mathematical probability.
Inception-present: The T’wolves were founded in 1989 and have been awful for most of their existence.
However, the Wolves finally broke through for the first of 8 straight playoff appearances in 1997 — and lost in the first round 7 straight times.
On the 8th try, the top-seeded Wolves made the Western Conference Finals before losing to the former Minneapolis Lakers. And that remained Minnesota’s final playoff appearance for 14 years.
The 2022 Timberwolves snapped a 3-year playoff skid, but somehow managed to blow 3 double-digit fourth-quarter leads in a 4-2 first-round loss to Memphis.
Inception-present: The very existence of the Wild is a heartbreaker, necessitated when the North Stars moved south to Dallas in 1993.
The Wild reached the conference finals in just their 3rd year, but haven’t come close since. Minnesota has been bounced out of the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs 6 straight times going back to 2016.
When you combine that with the Twins running total, Minnesota’s pro baseball and hockey teams have been eliminated in the opening round a combined 13 straight times.
That’s a lot of frustration. And unfortunately, it is only growing after the latest heartbreaker.