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.

Follow Jason on Twitter @JGonStrib

Email to talk Gophers.

Ambroz signs pro contract after Gophers' early exit from NCAA tournament

Posted by: Jason Gonzalez Updated: March 28, 2015 - 5:26 PM

Seth Ambroz signed a professional hockey contract on Saturday afternoon less than 24 hours after the Gophers' season ended with a 4-1 defeat to the Minnesota Duluth in the first round of the NCAA tournament in the Northeast Region.

The big-bodied senior forward is the first to sign a pro contract in what could be a busy offseason of signings for the Gophers' high-end talent.

Ambroz signed an amateur try-out contract with the Columbus Blue Jackets' AHL affiliate the Springfield Falcons (Massachusetts). He was drafted by the Blue Jackets in the fifth round (128th overall) in 2011.

"I'm looking forward to this opportunity and to continue my hockey career at the pro level," Ambroz said in a statement. "Playing hockey at the University of Minnesota was a dream come true for me, and I want to thank everyone who helped make that possible -- the coaches and staff, the guys on the team, my family and friends and also all the Gopher fans who have supported the team during my four years at the `U.' "

The alternate captain scored 12 goals and 11 assists in his final season with the Gophers. He played in 159 career games scoring 40 goals, dished out 30 assists and was part of a senior class that won four conference regular-season championships, one conference tournament title, played in two Frozen Fours and one national championship game. He was also a three-time academic all-conference recipient. 

"We certainly wish Seth the best as he takes the next step in his hockey career and thank him for his contributions to Gopher Hockey," coach Don Lucia said. "Like all of our seniors, Seth was a great leader for us and an integral part of the success we've had here at Minnesota over the last four years."

Postgame: Gophers don't get much from best players in first-round NCAA tournament defeat + video

Posted by: Jason Gonzalez Updated: March 28, 2015 - 1:14 AM

Gophers thumped out of NCAA regionals by rival Minnesota Duluth, read Friday night's game story.

MANCHESTER, N.H. -- The high-end talent the Gophers relied on throughout the season was nowhere to be found in Friday night's 4-1 loss against Minnesota Duluth in the first round of the NCAA tournament. 

Leading scorer Mike Reilly and leading goal-scorer Kyle Rau were held scoreless. Standout goaltender Adam Wilcox gave up more than two goals for the first time in three weeks. 

Without support from their best scorers and Wilcox unable to make up for the team's offensive shortcomings, the result was just the fourth loss for the Gophers over the last nine weeks. Seth Ambroz had the team's only goal late in the third period to break up the shutout.

Reilly led the team with seven of their 32 shots on goal, but was making uncharacteristic mistakes that included whiffing on one-time attempts and breaking sticks. Rau only had two shots on goal, but one was arguably the Gophers' best scoring chance in the second period. 

They trailed the shots on goal battle 28-15 after two periods. 

"I feel bad for the kids. They didn't play their A-game, but again you have to give the other team credit on that," Gophers coach Don Lucia said. "The emotions involved, it's a big part of it. You can look in the guys' eyes and see where they are emotionally in the game. ... We didn't have enough offensive zone time and we didn't generate enough from an offensive standpoint. When we had our chances, whether we blew it, misfired, missed one-timers, it just wasn't our night." 

The two teams play a similar style of hockey and the Bulldogs got plenty of support from their best players. Top scorer Tony Cameranesi had two points (a goal and assist), while four of their five leading scorers had at least one point.

“They play like us. They’re a fast team, they’re a skilled team, and when two teams collide like that it comes down to who wants it more and we made mistakes early on and they capitalized on them and we couldn’t come back,” Gophers senior defenseman Ben Marshall said. “When you come up against a team like this and you get outmatched, it’s a punch in the face and we didn’t punch back.”

The Bulldogs final blow against the Gophers was a knockout punch. The Gophers’ only win against its rival this year spoiled the Bulldogs’ season-opener, but the Bulldogs latest triumph in the heated rivalry ends the Gophers’ season.

The Bulldogs have now won both NCAA tournament showdowns (2004, 2015) with the Gophers.

More reaction from Minnesota Duluth

Coach Scott Sandelin: "It's really important against any team, but certainly our success against Minnesota in the four wins we've scored the first goal and I think we built off that tonight. I liked our game a lot. ... That's a [Gophers] team that is a quick strike team. I thought the fourth goal was huge for us, because even with three goals I was still not comfortable because their power plays are so good and if you take a penalty or two they get momentum."

• It was a good day for two of the three Minnesota college hockey programs in action for Friday's NCAA tournament regionals. St. Cloud State upset Michigan Tech 3-2 in overtime in the West Region semifinals. Jonny Brodzinski, brother of Gophers' defenseman Michael Brodzinski, scored the game-tying goal with 38 seconds left of the third period. Full recap. Minnesota Duluth was the state's other program to move onto the next round. The tournament's overall No. 1 seed Minnesota State faces RIT on Saturday in the Midwest semifinals at 3 p.m. Game preview.

Friday’s Gophers-Minnesota Duluth box score.

Postgame video
(To view on mobile devices, click on player's/coach's name)

Gophers postgame press conference

Gophers senior forward Travis Boyd

Pregame: Gophers riding rare victory into NCAA tournament

Posted by: Jason Gonzalez Updated: March 27, 2015 - 3:30 PM

The Gophers are riding a wave of success into the NCAA tournament they aren't used to. For the first time in eight years, the program enters the postseason coming off a victory .

They won their conference tournament for the first time since 2007 last weekend in Detroit, finishing the job with a 4-2 victory over Michigan. Their winning streak is four games entering Friday's Northeast Region first-round game against rival Minnesota Duluth.

The run of success secured the Big Ten regular-season and tournament championships.

"The big thing for us was winning the conference tournament," Gophers senior forward Travis Boyd said. "The last three years we've been the one-seed and lost every first game we played. So being able to get over that and for the first time ever [for the senior class] go into the NCAA tournament on a win. I think that will help us try and keep the momentum going and keep this hot streak going."

The Gophers will have to settle into an unfamiliar environment for the second straight weekend. Like last weekend's experience at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit, none of this year's team has played in New Hampshire. 

However, they did play two games in Boston earlier this season. They beat Boston College and lost to Northeastern.

"I think proving yourself on the road or in a situation like last weekend helps going into the NCAA tournament because it's going to be the same thing [this week]," Boyd said. "We're going to be out of our element again out in New Hampshire just like we were last weekend. We just gotta make sure we come out and play like we did last weekend."

Though it's an unfamiliar city and venue for the Gophers, it's just the opposite for the matchup on the ice. The Gophers are very familiar with and comfortable playing against in-state rival Minnesota Duluth. Though they've lost three of the four non-conference meetings with the Bulldogs this season, they have an all-time 134-78-17 record against their neighbor to the north.

The Gophers are eager for redemption.

"It's a great region," Gophers senior captain Kyle Rau said. "But it's a big task that we don't look past Duluth 'cause they're a really good team and they've had the upper hand on us this season."

In case you missed this chart I put together earlier in the week, here's a breakdown of the Gophers-Bulldogs meetings this season:

The Gophers and Minnesota Duluth will face off for the fifth time this season — and in the fifth different venue — in the first round of the NCAA tournament on Friday in Manchester, N.H. The Bulldogs have the upper hand in the season series with a 3-1 record. They also won the only time the two rivals have met in the NCAA tournament.
About the rivalry
• The Gophers have a 134-78-17 all-time record against the Bulldogs.
• Minnesota Duluth is 5-2-2 against the Gophers in the past three seasons.
• The Bulldogs beat the Gophers 3-1 in the 2004 Midwest Regional final to end Minnesota’s hopes for three straight NCAA titles.
2014-2015 results
Oct. 10: Don Lucia’s squad opened the season with a 4-3 victory at the Ice Breaker Tournament in South Bend, Ind. The Gophers built an early 3-0 lead and held off the Bulldogs’ comeback attempt.
Nov. 14: UMD shut out the Gophers 3-0 at Mariucci Arena in what was the beginning of the Gophers’ mid-season slump.
Nov. 15: The home-and-home series shifted north where the Bulldogs survived for a 2-1 victory.
Jan. 24: The Gophers hit a season low when they lost 2-1 to the Bulldogs in the North Star College Cup consolation game at Xcel Energy Center. However, it was after this loss that the Gophers started to turn around their season.

Mike Reilly has emerged as one of the best players in college hockey over the past two seasons and will go down as one of the best defenseman in Gophers hockey history. As he eyes another All-America honor, he hopes to help guide the Gophers to a third Frozen Four appearances in the last four years, read Friday's tournament preview feature on Reilly. Also, watch video of coach Don Lucia and Mike Reilly previewing the first-round matchup. 

A two-week hockey break revived Minnesota Duluth's spirits as the Bulldogs go for a fourth straight win against rival Gophers. Read about how they blew off some steam after a bumpy end to the regular season.

• Northeast Region semifinal: No. 3 Gophers vs. No. 2 Minnesota Duluth
4:30 P.M. • Manchester, N.H. • ESPNU, 1500-AM

Inside the matchup: The rivals will meet for a fifth time this season in a fifth different rink. The Bulldogs have a 3-1 advantage in the season series. They met in each team’s season-opener, the Gophers’ only win against UMD this season, in front of a couple hundred fans in South Bend, Ind., and the scene might be much of the same this time. The Gophers are hoping for redemption, while the Bulldogs hope to improve on their 5-2-2 record against their rival over the past three seasons. The Gophers have won 11 of their past 14 games. The Bulldogs have only won one game in their past seven, and haven’t played in two weeks.

Find out who will be the players to watch in the full series preview and read about the first semifinal matchup of Boston University and Yale. State of hockey (and North Dakota) in the NCAA tournament preview.

• Gophers' Friday lines
Forwards (left wing, center, right wing)
Leon Bristedt, Kyle Rau, Hudson Fasching
Sam Warning, Travis Boyd, Seth Ambroz
Taylor Cammarata, Justin Kloos, Vinni Lettieri
 A.J. Michaelson, Christian Isackson, Jack Glover

Defensemen (left, right)
Brady Skjei, Ryan Collins
Mike Reilly, Jake Bischoff
Ben Marshall, Michael Brodzinski

Adam Wilcox, Nick Lehr

Gophers land in Northeast Region, play Minnesota Duluth in first round of NCAA tournament

Posted by: Jason Gonzalez Updated: March 22, 2015 - 12:34 PM

The Gophers rested well Saturday night knowing that their spot in the NCAA tournament was secure and waited patiently Sunday morning to learn that they’ll play in-state rival Minnesota Duluth in the Northeast Region Friday night in Manchester, N.H.  

It’ll be the fifth time the rivals have played this season, with the Bulldogs holding a 3-1 series advantage.

The Gophers avoided bubble status by winning  the Big Ten tournament with a 4-2 victory over Michigan on Saturday. They'll have to travel to another unfamiliar region and venue again this weekend with Boston University hosting as the top seed and Yale as the fourth team in the region. 

The top four seeds are Minnesota State, North Dakota, Boston University and Miami.

No. 1-overall seed Minnesota State plays RIT in Saturday’s Midwest semifinal in South Bend, Ind . St. Cloud State was the fourth team from Minnesota to make the tournament and plays Michigan Tech in the West Regional in Fargo, N.D.

Northeast Regional – Manchester, N.H.
Boston University vs. Yale, 1 p.m. Friday, ESPNU
Minnesota-Duluth vs. Gophers, 4:30 p.m. Friday, ESPNU
Regional championship game, 4:30 p.m. Saturday, ESPN2

West Regional – Fargo, N.D.
Michigan Tech vs. St. Cloud State, 3:30 p.m. Friday, ESPN3/WatchESPN
North Dakota vs. Quinnipiac, 7 p.m. Friday, ESPNU
Regional championship game, 8 p.m. Saturday, ESPNU

Midwest Regional – South Bend, Ind.
Minnesota State vs. RIT, 3 p.m. Saturday, ESPNU
Omaha vs. Harvard, 6:30 p.m. Saturday, ESPN3/WatchESPN
Regional championship game, 6:30 p.m. Sunday, ESPNU

East Regional – Providence, R.I.
Denver vs. Boston College, 2 p.m. Saturday, ESPN2
Miami vs. Providence, 5:30 p.m. Saturday, ESPNU
Regional championship game, 4 p.m. Sunday, ESPNU

Complete tournament bracket

Pregame: Gophers comfortable on unfamiliar ice, eyeing upset in Michigan territory

Posted by: Jason Gonzalez Updated: March 21, 2015 - 5:14 PM

DETROIT -- The Gophers had about 20 minutes on Friday morning to get familiar with Joe Louis Arena's ice surface. It wasn't much time for the Big Ten tournament's top seed to figure out how to play the corners or get a good feel for the speed of the ice, but that didn't appear to hinder their ability in a 3-0 semifinal victory over Ohio State.

The unfamiliarity might be more obvious in Saturday night's championship game. The Gophers' opponent, Michigan, is very familiar with Joe Louis Arena and has a 4-1 record at the NHL venue, this season, including a Great Lakes Invitational championship run.

"I know Michigan and Michigan State in a sense have home-field advantage a little bit there," Gophers junior defenseman Mike Reilly said leading up to the tournament. 

Michigan coach Red Berenson also recognized that there could be an advantage with the tournament shifting to Detroit this year.

"At least we're more familiar playing at the Joe than we are [at Xcel Energy Center] in St. Paul," Berenson said. "I think it could be somewhat of a home-ice advantage and familiarity."

The Gophers hadn't played in a conference tournament outside of Minnesota since 1996 when the WCHA tournament was held in Milwaukee, Wis. The change might have been good for the Gophers, though, since they hadn't won a conference tournament championship since 2007.

They won their first conference playoff game since 2009 on Friday and will try and end the long title drought on Saturday night.

"Sometimes there is more pressure at home in our own building," Gophers coach Don Lucia said. "It's the first time we've ever played in this building before for any of our guys, so that was all new. We're just trying to get used to the boards and some of the nuances of the rink."

The Gophers jumped to No. 10 after Friday's results and enter the Big Ten tournament championship game in better position to claim an at-large bid into the NCAA tournament whether they win or not. However, Lucia knows there's no guarantees. 

"Winning takes care of everything. There are still a lot of scenarios where if where if we don't win tomorrow we can't get in," Lucia said. "It's kind of crazy that you win your league and you're in the [tournament] championship game and you still have that possibility. If we win, it takes care of everything.

"Obviously we're hoping for the favorites to win [Saturday], and there's not a lot of upsets. If that happens, then it won't matter."

There were several conference tournament upsets on Friday, including St. Cloud State beating North Dakota in the NCHC and Harvard beating Quinnipiac in the ECAC. Check out the college hockey scoreboard and the most recent PairWise rankings as conference tournaments wrap up on Saturday. 

• Gophers' Saturday lines
Forwards (left wing, center, right wing)
Leon Bristedt, Kyle Rau, Hudson Fasching
Sam Warning, Travis Boyd, Seth Ambroz
Taylor Cammarata, Justin Kloos, Vinni Lettieri
 A.J. Michaelson, Christian Isackson, Jack Glover

Defensemen (left, right)
Brady Skjei, Ryan Collins
Mike Reilly, Jake Bischoff
Ben Marshall, Michael Brodzinski

Adam Wilcox, Nick Lehr

• Big Ten tournament championship preview: No. 1 Gophers vs. No. 3 Michigan

7 P.M. VS. OHIO STATE • DETROIT • TV/radio/live stream: BTN, 1500-AM, BTN2Go
Inside the matchup: Michigan caused the Gophers the most trouble of any Big Ten opponent this season. The Wolverines (22-14) swept the Gophers (22-12-3) at Yost Arena in early January to jumpstart what became a terrible month for Minnesota. The Gophers, however, were the better team over the six weeks leading to the Big Ten tournament with a 9-3 record and winning the regular-season title race against the Wolverines. Two of those victories were against Michigan at Mariucci Arena. The Wolverines were 5-6 during this stretch. Both teams showcased their strengths in Friday’s semifinal victories with the Gophers getting a shutout effort from standout goaltender Adam Wilcox and Michigan’s nation-best offense erupting for four goals against Michigan State’s goalie and Big Ten Player of the Year Jake Hildebrand.

Friday replay: Gophers advance to Big Ten tournament title game, improve NCAA tournament status with shutout over Ohio State, read Friday night's game story and postgame blog. Watch the Gophers postgame press conference and video of senior forward Seth Ambroz.


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