The NCAA West Regional at Xcel Energy Center has been touted as the most competitive of the four regionals. Here’s how the four-team field stacks up:
Gophers, 25-6-6, Big Ten
There’s no more room for mistakes; the Gophers are aware of that. Associate head coach Mike Guentzel said there was anxiety, frustration disappointment, urgency and pressure throughout the week of practice. Their No. 1 overall seed, single-digit loss total, and their fans demand a successful NCAA tournament run. But the Gophers are young, with six freshman forwards and two defensemen. Their tournament success will — and should — rely on the upperclassmen: five seniors and six juniors. Coach Don Lucia said the upperclassmen’s ability to step up will go a long way in determining the Gophers’ success.
Robert Morris, 19-17-5, Atlantic Hockey
It’s the Colonials’ first NCAA tournament berth and they have the tools to make it successful. Robert Morris is averaging 3.46 goals per game, the sixth-highest average in the country, and has two of the country’s top 12 scorers. Cody Wydo is college hockey’s second-best goal scorer with 30 in 41 games. He also has 22 assists for 63 points, tied for fifth in the nation. Zac Lynch has 18 goals and 27 assists for 45 points. If they can at least have an average night, that could be enough for an upset. Colonials freshman goaltender Dalton Izyk took over the job just three weeks ago. He had started only two games before winning five in a row to lead the Colonials to the Atlantic Hockey tournament title and an automatic NCAA tournament bid. Robert Morris is 0-4 against Big Ten programs this season, losing a pair to Ohio State and Penn State.
St. Cloud State, 21-10-5, NCHC
The Huskies are well-rested for another run at the Frozen Four. They were off last weekend after being upset in the first round of the NCHC playoffs. The extra preparation could be what the NCHC regular-season champions needed to regroup. They were considered a potential top seed for a regional until they were swept for the first time this season, losing two consecutive to Miami (Ohio). Coach Bob Motzko called it a hiccup and he’s confident his team can find its consistency once again. St. Cloud State is led by many of the same standouts who fueled last year’s run to the Frozen Four, including Hobey Baker Award finalist Nic Dowd. He’s among the nation’s best scorers with 39 points (21 goals, 18 assists) and has 10 power-play goals. The Huskies average 3.67 goals per game and have a 25.5 percent success rate on the power play, both among the top three in the country.
Notre Dame, 23-14-2, Hockey East
The Irish have size and experience, two characteristics often invaluable at this time of the season. Notre Dame is led by 11 seniors and six juniors who have plenty of postseason experience. They are making back-to-back NCAA tournament appearances and in 2011 the current seniors advanced to the Frozen Four. Goaltender Steven Summerhays has a .925 save percentage and 2.00 goals-against average this season. The Irish are 3-0 and scored 13 goals in their last three meetings with No. 3 Boston College. As in last year’s first round, the Irish will face St. Cloud State. They lost 5-1. Notre Dame historically struggles against Minnesota programs in the NCAA tournament. They lost to Minnesota Duluth in the 2011 Frozen Four, to Bemidji State in the 2009 regionals, and to the Gophers in the 2004 regionals. The Irish will need to beat two Minnesota programs this weekend for a spot in the Frozen Four.