Jason Gonzalez has covered an array of sports at all levels over the last six 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 is nearing two years with the Star Tribune.

Follow Jason on Twitter @JGonStrib

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Gophers hope to remain on autopilot for national championship game

Posted by: Jason Gonzalez Updated: April 12, 2014 - 6:07 PM

A motivational speaker wasn't necessary for the Gophers. They should be on autopilot this deep into the season, coach Don Lucia said.

Countless emails and text messages are the only thing the Gophers have relied on for inspiration heading into Saturday night's national championship game against Union.

"Really at this point, you hope your team is on autopilot, because if we have to push and prod at this time of the year as coaches [it's not good]. ... That's all been done in October, November and December," Lucia said. "We tell our guys all year long that sometimes we're critical of them after a win, but we're coaching for the end of the year."

Boston College took a different route for motivation and it didn't pay off. Coach Jerry York had New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick speak to his team leading up the Frozen Four. The Eagles were upset by Union in the semifinal. 

The Gophers are content with the messages from former players posted in the locker room. Their phones have also been overwhelmed by text messages after the wild finish to Thursday's 2-1 victory over North Dakota. 

• The Gophers are the lower-ranked team on the ice for the first time this season.

Union assumed the No. 1 ranking in USCHO's final poll of the regular season after the Gophers were upset by Ohio State in the Big Ten tournament semifinals.

Based on the NCAA tournament seedings, the Gophers are No. 1 and Union No. 3. The Gophers' strength of schedule likely secured the top seed heading into the tournament. 

Union was the only Frozen Four qualifier to win its conference tournament. The Dutchmen are on a 16-game unbeaten streak entering Saturday's finale.

NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP PREVIEW

Union vs. Gophers: 6:30 p.m., ESPN; WatchESPN; 1500-AM

Gophers' championship 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

Goaltenders
Adam Wilcox, Michael Shibrowski

Union's championship lines
Forwards (left wing, center, right wing)

Daniel Carr, Mike Vecchione, Daniel Ciampini
Matt Wilkins, Eli Lichtenwald, Michael Pontarelli
Matt Hatch, Max Novak, Kevin Sullivan
Cole Ikkala, Sam Coatta, Nick Cruice

Defensemen (left, right)
Mat Bodie, Sebastien Gingras
Shayne Gostisbehere, Jeff Taylor
Charlie Vasaturo, Noah Henry

Goaltenders
Colin Stevens, Alex Sakellaropoulos, Dillon Pieri

GOPHERS AT A GLANCE

Record: 28-6-6 - Conference: Big Ten - Coach: Don Lucia, 372-190-65, 15th season at Minnesota

Frozen Four semifinals result: def. North Dakota 2-1 in final seconds of the game. West Regional results: def. Robert Morris 7-3, def. St. Cloud State 4-0

Overview: The Gophers are peaking at the right time. Though they’ve been ranked No. 1 for most of the season, it wasn’t until the West Regional final that everything looked and felt on point to them. Goalie Adam Wilcox said the victory over St. Cloud State was the best he has seen the team play in his two years with the U. Wilcox and the defense continue to be the backbone of the Gophers’ success. The upperclassmen forwards sparked an 11-goal output in the regional. If they can continue this trend, the Gophers will be tough to beat. Junior Kyle Rau (14-25—39) is the team’s leading scorer.

DUTCHMEN AT A GLANCE

Record: 31-6-4 - Conference: ECAC - Coach: Rick Bennett, 79-27-16, third season at Union

Frozen Four semifinal result: def. Boston College 5-4. East Regional results: def. Vermont 5-2, def. Providence 3-1

Overview: Union enters the Frozen Four as No. 1 in the USCHO poll but isn’t the favorite. The Dutchmen are in a field that includes three of college hockey’s most storied programs, putting them in an underdog role. Bennett said it’s OK if his program is given the “Rocky tag” despite their current 15-game unbeaten streak and second Frozen Four appearance in three years. Union also is the only team in college hockey with 30-plus victories and has the second-best offense in the nation (3.70 goals per game). The only team with better offense is Boston College. Senior Daniel Carr (22 goals, 27 assists) is the team’s leading scorer.

Extra reading previewing Saturday's national championship:

• Gophers-Union, very different backgrounds meet in national title game.
• Holl's perseveres to become Gophers hero.
• Gophers must finish the job.
Frozen Four notebook.
• Gophers Frozen Four video.

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