Gophers coach Don Lucia said he enjoyed reading about the BU-Gophers rivalry this week.
The present BU team impresses him. "They are physical. They are going to run over a few people," he said. "Their top two lines can really get up and down the rink. [Chris] Connolly -- you watch him play he looks just like his brother. Same style of player. Their D-corps -- they have good size, they have goo mobility. They bring a lot of offense to the table."
[Chris Connolly is the older brother of Jack, a center for UMD who was named the WCHA player of the year.]
"They are a team that you have to defend all five guys when they are on the offensive zone. They are going to use their defense and create a lot of offense from their defense.”
But BU is not the only strong team in the West Regional at the Xcel Energy Center.
“It is a great field," Lucia said. "We are probably the one regional where if any of the four teams came out of it, I do not think anyone would be all that surprised. We have two great matchups. Western [Michigan] is playing well. North Dakota is playing very well. BU, they won a national championship just a few years ago.”
Lucia expects a low-scoring game. “If you look at us ... we are not a real high-scoring team this back half of the season. We have won a lot of games 2-1 and 3-2. There have not been a lot of games where we have had a three- or four-goal lead in them. For us, we have to try to win a 3-2 type of game. If you get to 3, that has to be enough. Goaltending is critical at this stage."
He said he has told his players to "play free. Play the best you are capable of playing. You don't need to do more than you have done all season long. ... Just continue to do the things that got us here."
“These are one-game shots. You want your guy to get a good start. Obviously, [Kent Patterson] is a very good goaltender," Lucia said. "He has had a terrific season. BU's guy [senior Kieran Millan] has won a national title. He is an outstanding goaltender was well. Both senior guys. That part of it should be a great matchup. We have to play well in front of Kent. We have to make sure we do a good job of clearing pucks. We have to make sure we do a good job of taking care of the puck this weekend because BU is a good transition team with their defensemen. You've got to do the little things this time of the year if you are going to be successful.
Like having short memories.
“We lost one game on Friday night" last week, Lucia said. We did a good job of putting it behind us on Saturday with our practice and our video. Then youi start on Monday and you start moving forward. To be honest, I don't think our guys spend a lot of time thinking about what happened last weekend.
"The media likes to ask about it. Last weekend or next weekend doesn't have any barring on what happens this weekend. It is just about playing well [Saturday] afternoon at 4 o'clock. That is what it is all about."
One concern for Lucia is that none of their players have even been in the NCAA tournament before.
“IWe are probably playing 15 freshmen and sophomores [Saturday]," Lucia said. "They have been in Grand Forks, they have been in Denver, that have been in UNO, they have been in Wisconsin, Duluth. They have been in environments that are no different than what they are going to see this weekend.
"They are going to see a very good team, but no different than what we have seen throughout the year. And I am sure BU feels exactly the same way. ... There is a reason there is an eight and a nine seed. It is two very evenly matched teams. [Saturday] it is all about execution.
"Who is going to perform? Who is going to make a key save or make a key block at a crucial point in the game. You work all year to get to this point. You want to play your best at this time of the year and hopefully we will [Saturday].”
SENIORS ESPECIALLY THRILLED
Gophers captain Taylor Matson said he is excited to play Boston U for the first time.
This is also the first time in four years the U of M is in the NCAA tournament. “It’s awesome, especially for our senior class," he said. "We’ve worked so hard the last four years. And we’ve had this as a goal of ours since we came to Minnesota. It feels great to be here, we’re just ready to work hard and play Gopher hockey this weekend.”
Ironically, the last time the Gophers were in the NCAA tournament was in 2008, when they played Boston College in Worcester, Mass. BC won 5-2 en route to the NCAA title. That was the eight consecutive NCAA appearance for the Gophers. This year is their 33rd trip overall.
But this one is in a familiar rink. "Xcel Center is a place where, growing up, you always watched the [high school] state tournament," Matson said. "To play there myself in the high school hockey tournaments and to be here at home in front of the home fans is exciting. And the atmosphere we played in front of last weekend, it was really fun to play in front of that."
It will be a tough challenge to beat BU. “They’re just a really high-powered offensive team," Matson said. "They have a great power play and good goaltending. They compare to a lot of the WCHA teams with their speed and scoring offense. For us it’ll be kind of an up and down game with the offensive skill out there on the ice. Once again, we’re just worried about our game, playing consistent hockey, and coming out and playing Gopher hockey.”
Matson said the players are in a good mood again, too.
“We were kind of down on ourselves after that loss" to North Dakota, he said. "This week, we had a team meeting, just the players. We got together and we said, ‘Guys, we have something special going on. Forget that loss and just work hard this week and get ready for this weekend.’”
Gophers defenseman Nate Schmidt said the playoffs have been an eye-opener for him.
“So far, they've taught me that any team can beat any team, any level, on any given night," he said. "Last weekend North Dakota played a good game against us. You have to be prepared for anything at all times. Boston University lost a couple of guys this year, but they’ve come back through it stronger since some of those dismissals. They have a really good team coming into this tournament, and it’s going to be an exciting game.”
One that the Gophers are well-prepared for.
“I think we’re ready to go," he said. "We watched some film this week. Coach [Lucia] really got us prepared for this game. It’s been a couple of years of waiting for this opportunity, to get back to this stage that we’re at right now, to get back to the NCAA tournament.
"Taylor [Matson]’s got the guys ready. Our captains, our seniors have emphaized how big of an opportunity this is for our team to go out and do what we want to do, do some of the things we wanted to get done at the beginning of the year."
Now the Gophers have a chance to to fulfill some of those goals, Schmidt said.
“For us to win, we always have to put together three complete periods," he said. "We showed last weekend that we can play well, but we just need to make sure that we compete for a full 60 minutes. We can’t let up, have any lapses in the middle of the game. That can lead to our downfall.
"We have to make sure that we come out and play hard, stay out of the penalty box. BU has been known to take a couple penalties. We just have to work hard, hopefully get our power play out there, and win the special teams battle.”
Schmidt said the Terriers' penaly kill looked very aggressive, so the Gophers will have to move the puck around quickly. "Hopefully, we can get some quick two-on-one strikes out of the corner with Erik [Haula] and Kyle Rau," he said. "Just get the puck moving right away because the more you stand around, the more their penalty kill gets into their defensice style. We just want to try to move them around as much as possible."