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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St. Cloud State and the Gophers will fight for more state bragging rights on Sunday night in the NCAA tournament West Regional championship game.
The Gophers won the inaugural North Star College Cup featuring four Minnesota hockey programs in January, but St. Cloud State forward David Morley said what happened then doesn’t matter anymore.
The Gophers beat the Huskies 4-1 in the first round of the North Star College Cup at Xcel Energy Center. The Huskies will get a chance to avenge that loss with much more at stake – a trip to the Frozen Four.
“At this point of the year it’s do-or-die, it doesn’t matter who we’re playing. … That stuff from Christmas doesn’t matter right now,” Morley said after beating Notre Dame 4-3 in overtime on Saturday night. “It’s bring your ‘A’ game and taking it one game a time, here.”
The Brodzinski brothers will get another opportunity to go head-to-head. St. Cloud State’s Jonny Brodzinski and the Gophers’ Michael Brodzinski each scored goals in their respective wins on Saturday. Michael’s two-point effort earned him a spot in the lineup for a second straight night.
Sunday’s other regional final also features two hockey programs from the same state – Boston College and Massachusetts-Lowell. Boston College won the season series 1-0-1, but Lowell won the Hockey East tournament championship.
• The Gophers can hear you. A full stadium and roaring fans mean a lot to the Gophers success, co-captains Nate Condon and Kyle Rau said.
There was a lack of it at last weekend’s Big Ten tournament, but Condon said that was the Gophers' fault. They’ll need the fans’ help in order to finish this run to the Frozen Four, though.
“Fans don’t realize how important they are, but they are huge for us and we’re thankful we’ve got some of the best fans in college hockey,” Rau said. “If you’re feeling a little tired and the crowd stands up and starts cheering, you get that energy right back.”
Saturday’s announced crowd for the opening round of the West Regional was announced at 9,232. A bigger crowd would arguably favor the Gophers. They average 9,000-plus most nights at Mariucci Arena.
“When you get the crowd behind you, it makes you want to work that much harder,” Condon said. “So it’s great playing in front of home crowd like this and hopefully we can get another big crowd this weekend.”
• Gophers' Sunday 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 CHAMPIONSHIP PREVIEW
Sunday at 6:30 p.m. on ESPNU, 1500-AM, WatchESPN.com
GOPHERS, 26-6-6, 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.
ST. CLOUD STATE, 22-10-5, NCHC
The Huskies are well-rested for another run at the Frozen Four. They were off last weekend after being upset in the first round of the NCHC playoffs. The extra preparation could be what the NCHC regular-season champions needed to regroup. They were considered a potential top seed for a regional until they were swept for the first time this season, losing two consecutive to Miami (Ohio). Coach Bob Motzko called it a hiccup and he’s confident his team can find its consistency once again. St. Cloud State is led by many of the same standouts who fueled last year’s run to the Frozen Four, including Hobey Baker Award finalist Nic Dowd. He’s among the nation’s best scorers with 39 points (21 goals, 18 assists) and has 10 power-play goals. The Huskies average 3.67 goals per game and have a 25.5 percent success rate on the power play, both among the top three in the country.
• Union and North Dakota advanced to the Frozen Four on Saturday. Here's a look at Saturday's results and Sunday's schedule:
Union 3, Providence 1, NCAA East Regional championship
Boston College 6, Denver 2, NCAA Northeast Regional semis
Gophers 7, Robert Morris 3, NCAA West Regional semis
North Dakota 2, Ferris State 1 (2OT), NCAA Midwest Regional championship
Massachusetts-Lowell 2, Minnesota State 1, NCAA Northeast Regional semis
St. Cloud State 4, Notre Dame 3, NCAA West Regional semis
Massachusetts-Lowell vs. Boston College, NCAA Northeast Regional, 4 p.m. ESPNU
St. Cloud State vs. Gophers, NCAA West Regional championship, 6:30 p.m., ESPNU
Extra reading from the West Regional
Gophers rout Robert Morris 7-3 game story.
Read St. Cloud State's and Notre Dame's overtime game story.
Adam Wilcox keeps it cool in the net column from Chip Scoggins.
Saturday's pregame and postgame blogs.
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.