Former-Mustang Romanko, Gophers come up short of NCAA berth

Former Mounds View High School standout Darian Romanko saw his first season of college hockey come to a close last weekend. He and his University of Minnesota Golden Gophers teammates were hoping for at least one more weekend of hockey but they came up short in the finals of the Big Ten Hockey Tournament.

Minnesota squared off against Michigan on March 19 at Xcel Energy Center with the conference tournament championship on the line. More important for Minnesota was the automatic berth in the NCAA tournament that came with the title. The auto bid was the Gophers’ only hope for inclusion in the national tournament as their overall body of work this season wasn’t going to be enough to earn them an at-large berth.

Things looked bleak for Minnesota when Michigan jumped out to a 2-0 lead on a pair of power-play goals but the Gophers fought back and took a 3-2 lead going into the third period. 

That scenario brought to mind a Minnesota-Michigan match-up 13 years earlier in the national semifinals in Buffalo, New York, when the Wolverines also took a 2-0 lead on the Gophers only to see Minnesota fight back to force overtime. In the extra session, current Minnesota Wild forward Thomas Vanek brought the puck out of the corner and beat Michigan goalie Al Montoya from a sharp angle to send the Gophers to the national title game. Minnesota went on to beat New Hampshire 5-1 in the finals as Vanek again scored the game-winner to give the Gophers back-to-back national championships.

Unfortunately for Minnesota, there were no such heroics this time around. Michigan tied it 3:28 into the third, scored the game winner with its third power-play tally of the night at 15:27 and scored an empty-net goal in the final minute to make the final score 5-3.

Michigan didn’t need to win the game to advance to the NCAA tournament. The Wolverines’ overall record of 24-7-5 was going to get them into the tournament regardless of the outcome of the Big Ten Tournament.

Minnesota finished the season 20-17 and 18th in the PairWise rankings that mimic the formula the NCAA uses to select the 16-team field for the national tournament. The PairWise compares all 60 Division I men’s hockey teams on record against common opponents, head-to-head competition and the ratings percentage index.

The Gophers were only 6-11 in non-conference play this season and only 5-9 against teams that did make the NCAA tournament. 

Another disappointment this season was Minnesota’s record at home. The Gophers went only 10-9 at Mariucci Arena and the nine losses were two more than they had at home in the previous three seasons combined.

Romanko finished the season, which saw him centering the fourth line for much of it, with four points on four assists. He committed three penalties for six minutes, amassed 48 shots on goal and finished a minus two.

Prior to coming to Minnesota, Romanko played two seasons of junior hockey with the Minnesota Wilderness of the North American Hockey League. He helped lead the Wilderness, based in Cloquet, to the 2015 NAHL championship. He led the NAHL in playoff points (19) and tied for the most playoff goals (7) and assists (12).

During the regular season, Romanko was second in the league in goals with 31 and finished eighth in the NAHL in points with 61.

While at Mounds View, Romanko scored 82 points (39 goals, 42 assists) in 74 games over three seasons. He was a two-time all-Suburban East Conference selection and was named the SEC’s Forward of the Year as a senior in 2013.

Minnesota saw its streak of consecutive NCAA tournament appearances snapped at four. Another reason missing the NCAA tournament this year stings is because had Minnesota qualified, it would have played in the regional being held at Xcel Energy Center. The Gophers won the previous two regionals held in St. Paul to advance to the Frozen Four.

The Gophers lose only three seniors off this year’s roster, one being a back-up goaltender, Ryan Coyne, who played in only two games. The other two were Romanko’s linemates — Ryan Reilly and A.J. Michaelson — against Michigan. Michaelson skated in 21 games this season and Reilly in six. They combined for one point.

The bigger question mark regarding Minnesota’s roster next year is the statuses of the underclassmen who have already been drafted by National Hockey League teams. Those teams sometimes want their players to leave school early and begin their professional careers.

A dozen Gophers have been drafted by NHL teams and the juniors are usually the most-likely players to leave early. Drafted juniors for Minnesota are Nick Seeler, Taylor Cammarata, Michael Brodzinski, Hudson Fasching and Jake Bischoff. 

Fasching, a 6-foot-2, 207-pound forward, would seem to be the most ready to head to the pros after scoring 20 goals and adding 18 assists this season. A post on the Buffalo News website on March 20 said that Buffalo Sabres were interested in having Fasching join the club as early as this week.

Seeler, a 6-foot-2, 192-pound defenseman whose rights are owned by the Wild, is another candidate for leaving the team early.

 

Brian Meyers can be reached at bmeyers@lillienews.com†or 651-748-7819. Follow him on Twitter @BMeyersNews.

Big Ten Hockey standings (final)

 

Conf.

Overall

Points

Minnesota

14-6-0 20-17-0 42

Michigan

12-5-3 24-75 41

Penn State

10-9-1 21-13-4 32

Ohio State

8-8-4 14-18-4 29

Michigan State

6-12-2 10-23-4 21

Wisconsin

3-13-4 8-19-8 15

 

Big Ten Hockey Tournament

Quarterfinals
Game 1 — Penn State 5, Wisconsin 2
Game 2 — Ohio State 4, Michigan State 3, OT

Semifinals
Game 3 — Michigan 7, Penn State 2
Game 4 — Minnesota 4, Ohio State 2

Championship game
Game 5 — Michigan 5, Minnesota 3

 

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