This hasn't been a particularly good couple years for Minnesota Gopher hockey.
They've had two straight NCAA misses -- in years Minnesota was scheduled to host regionals -- to go along with the fact that they've played one game in the Final Five over the last two years (a 2-1 play-in game loss to UMD in 2009).
It was a birthright for the Gophers and their dedicated fans before. This program doesn't miss the NCAAs, they always host first-round series in the WCHA playoffs, and they don't miss the Final Five. Now, they've missed two straight NCAAs, missed most of the last two Final Fives, and the Gophers have played on the road for the WCHA playoffs two of the last three years.
This is hardly what we have come to know from the Minnesota program. The fall has been more stunning than what Rich Rodriguez has pulled off with Michigan football. At least there are excuses -- full coaching change, different style of play -- for Michigan. The Gophers have gone from 60 to zero in about three years after dominating college hockey for a long time.
Lately, we've seen cracks developing in the armor ... the kinds of things that point to this being more than just a minor blip in the program's long and storied history. Players have left early at an amazing rate, some of whom weren't exactly ready to leave. A defenseman -- Sam Lofquist -- bolted during the season for major juniors last year. The year before, then-freshman forward Michael Dorr -- who had already bailed on his UMD commitment a few years prior -- decided he wasn't playing enough, so he transferred to Minnesota State.
This summer, the Gophers have lost recruits, and they may have pissed another off.
Ryan Walters was told to get back in the USHL, so he decommitted and went to Nebraska-Omaha. Highly-touted Seth Ambrosz doesn't seem terribly pleased about being sent back to juniors, something we reported on a few weeks back.
(At the time, we were led to believe this was a mutual decision. More recent reporting makes it sound like a Don Lucia-driven decision, and one Ambroz and his family are not happy about.)
Now, word comes from Roman Augustoviz that former International Falls Bronco Jake Youso has decommitted.
Roman tweeted that Youso is eligible for a third year of juniors, but it doesn't seem he wants to go that route. At 20, Youso wants to play college hockey.
He apparently wasn't going to do that at Minnesota, where the Gophers have too many forwards and not enough ice time. It's the same reason Ambroz is going to play in the USHL one more year (assuming the CHL leeches don't latch on), and it's why Walters is headed to Omaha to play for Dean Blais.
Augustoviz tweeted Monday about the Ambroz decision, and he noted that Lucia has just two years left on his contract. Athletic director Joel Maturi has expressed support publicly, but there has been nothing leaked to the public about contract talks.
That would indicate perhaps a bit less support and more pressure than anyone will talk about in the open. Lucia needs to win. He knows he needs to win, and he figures he's better off trying to win with a more experienced group of forwards and a limited number of newcomers.
Of course, we might not be done. There are rumblings that another departure could be on the way soon. Speculation centered around sophomore defenseman Nick Leddy, who was so-so as a freshman for the Gophers but had an impressive prospect camp with the Chicago Blackhawks. Minneapolis Star Tribune Wild writer Michael Russo shot that speculation down -- at least for now.
If the exodus isn't complete, the Gophers' fall down the WCHA ladder might not be, either.