Jason Gonzalez has covered an array of sports at all levels over the last nine years. He learned ice hockey, however, long before — during the 2002 Winter Olympic Games in Salt Lake City, Utah (his hometown). He got a close up look of legendary Gophers alum Herb Brooks and other Minnesota hockey greats. Jason has been with the Star Tribune since 2012.
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It only comes out for special occasions and this weekend is just that. Gophers coach Don Lucia wore one of his national championship rings to Friday's press conference, hoping it'll lead to some good luck for the Gophers.
"I don't wear it very often. I haven't wore it much this year," Lucia said. "But we'll see if we can bring out some good luck charms this weekend."
It's been over 10 years since the Gophers last won a national championship. Their last Frozen Four appearance was in 2012. They'll begin a quest for another ring at 4:30 p.m. against Robert Morris in the NCAA Tournament West Regional opener at Xcel Energy Center.
Lucia knows the only real good luck charm is how well you play and is confident in his team's effort despite last weekend's letdown in the Big Ten Tournament. The players are hoping the upset fuels their performance this weekend in the same venue they came up short in against Ohio State.
"It's going to motivate the guys even more this weekend," Gophers co-captain Nate Condon said. "It kind of brings back memories of last year and coming up short the way we did. It sets the tempo and makes the guys realize it is one game and you're done. It's a motivating factor for us."
• Gophers' Saturday lines
Forwards (left wing, center, right wing)
Sam Warning, Kyle Rau, Hudson Fasching
Nate Condon, Justin Kloos, Taylor Cammarata
Tom Serratore, Travis Boyd, Seth Ambroz
Connor Reilly, Gabe Guertler, Vinni Lettieri
Defensemen (left, right)
Brady Skjei, Justin Holl
Mike Reilly, Jake Parenteau
Ben Marshall, Michael Brodzinski
Adam Wilcox, Michael Shibrowski
• WEST REGIONAL PREVIEW
Saturday's first round at Xcel Energy Center: Gophers vs. Robert Morris, 4:30 p.m. on ESPN2 and 1500-AM; St. Cloud State vs. Notre Dame, 8 p.m. on ESPNU.
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.
NCAA West Regional complete breakdown, including previews of St. Cloud State and Notre Dame.
• Read Friday’s feature: Gophers' Fab Five seniors have helped reshape the program + preview VIDEO from Friday's workout at Xcel Energy Center: Don Lucia, Nate Condon, Kyle Rau VIDEO; Adam Wilcox VIDEO; Seth Ambroz VIDEO.
• Ben Marshall and Gophers eager for a chance at redemption.
• From our columnist Chip Scoggins: Robert Morris hockey turned season around halfway through.
• NCAA Tournament results and Saturday schedule:
Friday's regional results
Providence 4 vs.Quinnipiac 0, NCAA East Regional
Union 5 vs. Vermont 2, NCAA East Regional
Ferris State 1 vs. Colgate 0, NCAA Midwest Regional
North Dakota 5 vs.Wisconsin 2, NCAA Midwest Regional (Was tied 2-2 with two minutes to play)
Providence vs. Union, NCAA East Regional championship, 2 p.m. ESPN2
Denver vs. Boston College, NCAA Northeast Regional, 3 p.m. ESPNU
Robert Morris vs. Gophers, NCAA West Regiona, 4:30 p.m. ESPN2
North Dakota vs. Ferris State, NCAA Midwest Regional championship, 5:30 p.m. ESPNU
Minnesota State vs. Massachusetts-Lowell, NCAA Northeast Regional, 6:30 p.m. ESPN3
Notre Dame vs. St. Cloud State, NCAA West Regional, 8 p.m. ESPNU