Thursday, March 04, 2010

Is Lucia Sandbagging?

Surfing around the internet this morning, I came across an interesting topic. Star Tribune Gopher hockey writer Roman Augustoviz posted a couple things on his Twitter page about the Minnesota-Wisconsin game at Target Center Friday night.

(The Gophers should be playing at Mariucci Arena, but they were forced to move this game downtown because the National Synchronized Skating Championships are at Mariucci this week -- a major scheduling snafu. I told FSN's Frank Mazzocco -- jokingly -- last weekend at the DECC that someone was probably going to get fired over this, to which Frank indicated I could be right. Hopefully, he was joking, too.)

Anyway, Roman indicated that head coach Don Lucia felt his team loses their home-ice advantage having to play at Target Center Friday night. Augustoviz expects around 14,000 fans at the game, which is around 1,000 below hockey capacity at the Timberwolves' home arena. Minnesota is 7-4-1 all-time at Target Center, which hosted the Final Five in 1999 and 2000.

Coming from a guy who has gotten plenty of heat over the years for the fact his Gophers get to play in the Final Five at the XCel Energy Center every year, this seems rather disingenuous. But is Lucia sandbagging, or is he making a legitimate point about not playing at home?

But let's be fair for a moment. First off, no one at Minnesota is responsible for the Final Five being in St. Paul every year. It's not like they put a gun to the WCHA's head on the manner, threatening to leave the league if the tournament wasn't in the Twin Cities. And no one with a brain -- or who attended last year's semifinals and championship, which were void of the Gophers -- thinks they should move anywhere else.

Secondly, it's not like the Gophers have a sterling record playing at the XCel. According to Minnesota's media guide, the Gophers have a winning percentage of .694 all-time at Mariucci Arena. Their all-time winning percentage on designated home ice is .714.

At the XCel Energy Center, Minnesota is 18-10 all-time, for a winning percentage of .643. The 7-4-1 record at Target Center yields a winning percentage of .625.

Compared to home ice, Don is right. They're not as good on the other rinks.

There's good reason for this. Target Center and the XCel Energy Center might house more Gopher fans than Mariucci can hold for a Gopher game, but it isn't home. The boards don't bounce the same. The guys still have to load their gear and travel. They can't dress in their home locker room. They don't practice all week at these facilities (generally) in preparation to play there. It's not the comforts of home, and you lose the advantage you get of playing in the familiar building with a big sheet when you go play somewhere that isn't familiar and doesn't have a big sheet.

This isn't about making excuses for the Gophers. Frankly, if they're good enough, they'll win anyway. And if they don't get points against the Badgers this weekend, it won't be because some idiot double-booked Mariucci Arena. It will be because Wisconsin is simply a better team.

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