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Gophers Hockey: Minnesota's five seniors are leaving the team better off

Forwards Nate Condon, Tom Serratore, defensemen Justin Holl and Jake Parenteau, and goalie Michael Shibrowski will be honored tonight prior to the Gophers' last home game of the season.

Senior co-captain Nate Condon (16) with senior defenseman Jake Parenteau (6)
Senior co-captain Nate Condon (16) with senior defenseman Jake Parenteau (6)
Matt Christians

It was bound to happen, an unbeaten streak being snapped and coming to an end.

That was the case three Friday nights ago in Madison when a last chance by the University of Minnesota failed at Kohl Center. Wisconsin defenseman Jake McCabe, who had put the Badgers ahead minutes earlier with his 7th goal of the season, was now working to maintain that 2-1 lead. Despite a last gasp by the Gophers, Wisconsin held on to win. In the process, the Badgers snapped Minnesota's 14 game unbeaten streak.

Minnesota's streak, tied for the third-longest in school history, seemed familiar. 14 games are the longest since the Gophers went unbeaten for a school-high in 22 games during 2006-2007 before falling in Madison by a 2-1 score.

Go long enough and the parallels to 2006-07 continue. There have been losses to the pros to overcome and unexpected freshmen near or leading the team in scoring. This season, one coming after a first round upset OT loss in the NCAA Tournament, has exceeded expectations so far to the point where Don Lucia's struggles missing the Tournament 3 years in a row are off in the distance. Those memories have faded.

Instead, Minnesota's current 3 year stretch of being ranked in the top-5 is a testament to the team and its senior class. Their accomplishments both on and off the ice will be honored Saturday night when the Gophers host Penn State in Minnesota's home finale.

Not everyone will be there. What was a ten person class has been cut in half. Nick Bjugstad is helping turn Florida around. Erik Haula is still wearing a Minnesota sweater Friday; just not maroon and gold. Those guys may have left for the NHL, but the five remaining seniors - forwards Nate Condon and Tom Serratore, defensemen Justin Holl and Jake Parenteau, and goalie Michael Shibrowski - have come a long way.

All but Shibrowski, who transferred from Colorado College, are the only players who have been on a Minnesota team which has missed the NCAA Tournament. It'd be easy for the cycle to continue and let that define rather than fuel.

Like a rapper going off page mid-flow, this new verse can be seen in the work ethic, between the lines. This crop of seniors, who have been the leaders for two years now given Seth Helgeson and Zach Budish were the last year's only two fourth-year players, contain a litany of players whose contributions go beyond the scoresheet.

From Serratore's bone-crushing hits to Condon's speed and penalty kill to Holl selflessly playing forward for most of a season to stay in the lineup, Minnesota's five seniors are guys you want, no need, on a team.

"This was a very important class for us, because this is the group that really turned things around in the way that we wanted to be. They have won a couple league titles, went to the Frozen Four and even though we lost a couple key guys to this class, that have moved on to the professional ranks," Lucia said. "These are the one that gave the foundation that we want to have."

Even with adversity. Despite not playing a game, the month of September went horribly for the Gophers. Freshman defenseman Tommy Vannelli left the team for the WHL. Freshman forward Gabe Guertler was arrested for suspicion of DWI.

Still, Nate Condon wasn't deterred. Leaning upon friends and former teammates/captains Taylor Matson and Budish for advice, the new Gopher co-captain didn't wallow.

"Yeah we had some tough problems here. You have to learn to deal with that stuff, that's the adversity of it. I think that moving forward we'll be alright," Condon, whose work ethic paid off with a shorthanded goal in last night's 5-1 win, told me before the season. "Our team is just going to be a little different.

"We'll be a solid team."

He was right. Minnesota is on top of the Big Ten and spent most of the year ranked 1st or 2nd.

Coming in as a part of a ten person class, these seniors leave Mariucci Arena Saturday with a Frozen Four appearance, two MacNaughton Cups and in good position for a third run at a national title and more hardware.

"They're all going to graduate as good kids," said Lucia last night. "They represent the program the way we want it to be represented. They set a good bar for the rest of the guys."

It had to end sometime, but the parallels to the past - the one where University of Minnesota reloads - are there. This year's senior class can leave knowing that. Short of a national title, there are no bigger testaments for the five remaining.

Short of winning a national title? Last home game at Mariucci or not, there's still time this season to change that last thing.

More fuel for the fire.

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Nathan Wells is a college hockey columnist for SB Nation. You can also follow him on Twitter --