Nate Schmidt, a sophomore defenseman, is the fourth-leading scorer on the Gophers with three goals and 35 assists for 38 points. He was asked his ideas on five topics this Wednesday.
1. Would you like to play North Dakota again? "Absolutely. You are focusing on the game on Saturday, but obviously it is in the back of your mind a little bit. It would be great to have another shot in the same building with the stakes a little higher."
(UND beat the Gophers 6-3 in the Final Five semifinals last week.)
2. What does making NCAA tournament mean for the seven seniors on the team? "It is a little bit excitement, a little bit tense, anxiety. We are ready to go for this weekend. And one of the things that is tough for us is this waiting game. Waiting for this weekend to come. We are just ready to go for a great weekend, hopefully. The seniors, they are taking control almost as if ... we have been here before."
(None of the Gophers have played in an NCAA tournament game.)
3. Thoughts on coach Don Lucia: "He is much more focused. I don’t think he has so much burden on his shoulders trying to deal with a lot of different things, which is one thing coach [Mike] Guentzel brought. He was able to take some of the pressure and tension off coach Lucia. ... It’s let him be a lot more relaxed. In the locker room, he is joking around with the guys.
"Winning cures a lot of things. I am sure coach will tell you the same thing, that he feels much better. It is coming back year by year. He looks great. He has a lot more confidence in himself and our team as well.
"[Success] all starts with a great coach and you can’t get anywhere without guys who have experience and guys who have been there before and know what it takes to win. We have a coaching staff that brings all types of unique experiences to the table. ... They all know what it takes. They all bring a unique dynamic to the team that is vital to our success."
Schmidt said there was a lot of uncertainty last spring about Lucia, who hadn't signed a contract extension, and perhaps about changes on his staff.
"It was a tough situation to be in all spring. And once coach found [everything] out, we all kind of buckled in. He kind of buckled down, too: 'OK, guys, we have to change a little bit. I know i have to change a little bit.' ... He seemed like a new, revamped guy after that. It really helped him as a person and it helped us as a team."
4. Thoughts on whether the Gophers can win four games in a row and become national champions? "If we play our best hockey, it is evident we can play with a lot of teams. We can play a lot of different styles in order to beat different teams."
5. Thoughts on how important the mental part of hockey is? "There is a guy last year that i am still in contact, Shawn Goodsell of Mental Edge. He is one of our sports psychologists guys that comes in. We go through a series of tests and he kind of breaks down our personalities through these tests.
"He just tries to say where we are at in the mental part of the game. ... What he told a lot of us was [about the importance of] being able to have short memory. ... This is definitely a good week for us to have a short memory."
The mental part of hockey, Schmidt said, " is the most important part. If you are not mentally dialed in. your body might be doing one thing, but your mind might be doing another thing. If you are not mentally focused on the game, you are not at your best."
Bonus question: What is the key to winning? "Coach has given us sheets, stat sheets the whole year. In the games we had less turnovers and more blocked shots, the games we were more dialed in, you see our record go up in the win column."
See the coaches are tryingt to support their words with statistics. Whatever works.