The Gophers hockey team sat idle Saturday waiting to find out where they will play and what seed they will receive in the 2017 NCAA tournament.
Late in the night Minnesota regained the fourth and final No. 1 seed it had lost the night before.
Minnesota was already assured of an at-large bid by virtue of its 23-11-3 record and high placement in the Pairwise rankings, which mimic the criteria used by the NCAA selection committee to seed its 16-team field and pick 10 at-large teams.
“Obviously we’re in a much different situation from last year. We’re excited for the selection process [Sunday] and see where we end up,” sophomore forward Jack Ramsey said.
The opportunity opened thanks to Western Michigan losing 3-1 to Denver in the NCHC third-place game. Needing one of Boston College, North Dakota or Penn State to win, the first two results went the other way. The Eagles lost 4-2 to UMass-Lowell and UND lost 4-3 to Minnesota Duluth.
But Penn State, for the second consecutive night, won in double overtime, defeating Wisconsin 2-1 to win its first-ever conference title when Liam Folkes scored on a breakaway. Minnesota, Penn State and Ohio State — as the last at-large team in — will represent the conference in the NCAA tournament.
Moving forward, the Gophers are hoping to learn from the lessons and mistakes it made against Penn State. The Gophers gave up six penalties and 63 shots on goal to the Nittany Lions, totals that disappointed the team.
“I didn’t really like our start. Even though we scored two in the first, I don’t think we managed the puck real well,” Gophers coach Don Lucia said following Friday’s 4-3 defeat. “I thought Penn State played very well. They had a lot on the line [Friday]. They played that way.”
While not happy with the final result or some of the effort, Minnesota players say the experience of playing playoff hockey, and especially overtime in the longest game in Big Ten history, will be beneficial.
“This is what it might come down to, so at least we got some practice,” said goaltender Eric Schierhorn about the players testing themselves in overtime.
Schierhorn, who has a .934 save percentage over his past nine games, has been a bright spot down the stretch.
With a straight bracket based on Pairwise rankings — which is unlikely — the Gophers would be matched up against Lucia’s alma mater Notre Dame, which finished 13th in the Pairwise. Other teams in a regional with no changes would be UMass-Lowell and Air Force, winners of the Hockey East and Atlantic Hockey conference tournaments, respectively.
The four 2017 NCAA tournament regionals are being played in Fargo, Cincinnati, Providence, R.I., and Manchester, N.H. No matter the locale — Minnesota will probably go East — the Gophers have a second opportunity to make a better postseason impression.
“It doesn’t matter where we end up. We’re confident going into it knowing what we have to do,,” Ramsey said.