MINNEAPOLIS — Following the lead of Herb Brooks is something most Minnesota Gophers would relish, one would think. Last December, Gophers forward Sampo Ranta got to experience what Brooks had felt in 1960, when the future Gophers and Miracle on Ice coach was the final player cut from his national team that went on to win a gold medal.
“It was tough for sure, and it stung for a while,” Ranta admitted, after he was the final player cut from Team Finland’s entry in the 2019 World Junior Championships. He rebounded nicely, leading the Finns offensively at their summer camp, so it was no surprise this week when Ranta was invited to Finland's pre-tournament training camp for the 2020 World Juniors.
Ranta who is tied for the team lead in goals with six, will leave for Finland less than 24 hours after the Gophers conclude the first half of their season on Saturday night at Ohio State. He expects to be on the roster when the Finns head to the Czech Republic later in December where they will seek to defend the gold medal they won 11 months ago.
It’s good news/bad news for the Gophers, who are happy to have another player on the international stage, but realize they may be without Ranta for the Mariucci Classic tournament, which will be played Dec. 28-29 in Minneapolis.
“We’re really happy for him. Last year I know he took it extremely hard. The Finns have tremendous pride in playing for their country in this tournament,” said Gophers coach Bob Motzko, who led Team USA to a gold medal at the World Juniors in 2017. “He put on a nice show this summer and he’s ready for the challenge. I very much anticipate that he won’t be with us (for the Mariucci Classic).”
Similar to Wisconsin and North Dakota, Ranta said that Sweden and Russia are the two biggest rivals for the Finns, but he admitted that playing against the Americans would be special as well.
“I play against the USA guys here, because most of them are college guys,” Ranta said. “That would be a lot of fun.”
USA Hockey will announce its own training camp roster on Monday, Dec. 9, with Gophers defenseman Ryan Johnson and forward Blake McLaughlin expected by many to get invites.
Thrashing conjures memories of ugly night in Grand Forks
Blowouts, like the one we saw on Thanksgiving night, have not been all that common in the nearly 300 games played between Minnesota and North Dakota. So when they happen, they’re worth noting. The 9-3 win by the Fighting Hawks last Thursday was the first time since 1998 — and the first time ever in the 26-plus seasons that 3M Arena at Mariucci has been open — that an opponent has hung nine goals on the Gophers.
The script was flipped in the 1991-92 season, when the Gophers cruised to the WCHA title, while the then-Fighting Sioux finished eighth in the nine-team league. In the seven games played between those teams that season (four in the regular season and a three-game WCHA playoff series) the Gophers went 6-1, winning one game 8-2 and another 9-2. But it is a Friday night game in Grand Forks on March 6, 1992, that stands out most prominently in one’s memory.
Scott Bell was amazingly the only multiple goal-scorer in the contest, won 10-1 by the Gophers before a stunned and dwindling crowd of passionate North Dakota fans inside the original Ralph Engelstad Arena. Sioux coach John “Gino” Gasparini met with reporters in his usual gathering spot after the game, but didn’t stay long, as Virg Foss of the Grand Forks Herald reported.
“I’m embarrassed,” Gasparini told the small audience on hand, which included a certain 22-year-old Minnesota Daily reporter. “I’m embarrassed for us, and for our fans.”
North Dakota star forward Greg Johnson, who passed away last summer at age 48, staked the home team to a 1-0 lead just 64 seconds into the game. There was little else to cheer about, as the game was ugly on the scoreboard, and on the score sheet. The Sioux set a team-record that still stands with 30 penalties (one more than the 29 handed out the Gophers) and Bell, who went on to be the head coach at Hamline University and a Gophers assistant, got some rest after his pair of goals as he was also given a 10-minute misconduct.
The Gophers won 5-3 the next night to complete the road sweep.