Roman Augustoviz spends Minnesota's winters covering college hockey, specifically the Gophers, and other University of Minnesota sports. During the summer, he writes about the WNBA's Minnesota Lynx, with a dose of U sports sprinkled in. Follow him on Twitter @RomanStrib.

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Gophers captain: MacNaughton Cup convinced team it was special

Posted by: Roman Augustoviz under Frozen Four, Gophers, Men's hockey Updated: April 5, 2012 - 1:00 AM

Don Lucia met the news media on Wednesday afternoon with two of his players, captain Taylor Matson and sophomore defenseman Nate Schmidt.

In his opening statement, The Don said Gophers excited. ... it was a great journey. ... He was really proud of team winning MacNaughton Cup and bounded back to beat UND.

He called BC a great challenge. "We see and understand how well they've been playing," he said."...Everyone gets along. There's no cliques or anything like that. Just a great team to come to the rink every day and have fun with."

Matson should get some of the credit for that.

He said winning the MacNaughton Cup convinced team "we had a really good group of guys."

Schmidt said players enjoyed the airport reception team got -- like others teams did, but it was all business as soon as the Gophers stepped on the rink at the Tampa Bay Times Forum for practice and would remain that way through Thursday's game.

"Obviously we want to enjoy the time we have here, but ... at the same time guys like Taylor make sure that everyone knows that we are focused," Schmidt said, "dialed in and ready to go, and have a good practice [Wednes]day and be focused."

Lucia said he has a lot of respect for BC:  "Certainly look at what they've done in their history, very similar to Minnesota over the years.
"They've had a lot of U.S. kids, Mass kids, we have Minnesota kids and won over the years that way. And Jerry got there and they've been on a phenomenal run.
[With] very elite players. They play a style where they want to recruit talented players and let them get up and down the rink and let them play. And I think we try to do the same thing, is that we try to recruit skilled players and allow those skilled players to make plays and play pressure hockey.

"That's why [Thursday] should be highly entertaining.
"When you don't play each other for years, you read about the names, but until the puck drops you really don't have a great feel of what the opposition is like until the game really begins. You can watch tape, but then you start to identify and see how matchups go during the course of the game."
 
* There is a huge poster of Matson -- two, three stories high -- on the side of the Tampa Bay Times Forum along a BC player of similar size. "When we pulled up, everyone obviously gave Taylor a little bit of grief," Schmidt said, "But he's a well-deserving kid to be up there, probably the hardest working kid I've ever played next to."

.* Lucia called the Gophers sweep of UMD in their first conference series probably the most important week of their season: "We talked about we had slow starts the previous few years, and here you have to go at a very difficult opening road trip within your league and to be able to win those two games, I think, really gave us confidence, gave us confidence in Kent that he could steal a game for us and -- until our younger guys continue to improve. And I think they've done that.

* Lucia on how the Frozen Four has changed over the years from the mid-1990s when he was the coach at Colorado College: "It's more an event. The first one I was at was in Cincinnati in 1996. And it was a little bit more of -- I can't say it was a traditional area -- but there's probably, I don't know, 12-, 14,000 people at the game. The next year, at the Bradley Center, Milwaukee, if I remember correctly, it was a sellout, we had great crowds. But it seemed to kind of grow from that point to where it's become a real big event."

* Asked if his contract extension last fall contributed to the Gophers' successful season, Lucia quipped, "I don't know, Joel, what do you think?"

Everyone laughed. Joel Maturi, the Gophers' AD was in the crowd. Lucia said he appreciated Maturi and President Bruininks' decision to extend it.

He said he was happy for the players advancing to the Frozen Four. "Because, unless you're Boston College, you don't get here every year," Lucia said.  "So you better enjoy the opportunities you get when you do come.

"Winning the MacNaughton Cup was great, but I think the most important thing to this group was to get to the NCAA Tournament. We all come, and every player that's at the University of Minnesota has come because we have great tradition here."

THE DON SAYS

* On NCAA tournament schedule so far: "You look at BU, North Dakota, BC, it doesn't get any better than that three straight games."

* On offensive strategy: " We have to try to establish some offensive zone time and don't be overselective.
I think sometimes you try to get too cute, maybe, when the goaltender is hot or the team's playing -- or think you have to have the perfect shot. You don't. Let's get pucks to the net and let's see if one can go off a shin pad or one off a skate, try to get to some rebounds."
 

BLOOD SIGNS WITH NHL

UND senior defenseman Ben Blood has signed a contract with the Ottawa Senators. He was taken by Ottawa in the fourth round of the 2007 NHL Entry Draft. He will be sent to Binghamton of AHL.

A native of Plymouth, Blood was named to the all-WCHA third team as a senior after having three goals and 18 for a career-high 21 points in 42 games.

He is 6-4, 226-pound and best known by Gophers fans for pushing Kyle Rau of the Gophers in the handshake line this season and getting his "A" taken away for a while, which meant he was an assistant captain.

Blood is the third of three UND seniors to sign a pro contract.  Forward Mario Lamoureux and goalie Brad Eidsness signed amateur tryout agreements with the Gwinnett Gladiators) and Reading Royals of the East Coast Hockey League, respectively.

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