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.
Coach Don Lucia is sticking with what got him and the Gophers here:
1st line/ No. 7 Kyle Rau -- No. 27 Nick Bjugstad -- No. 24 Zach Budish ... size here with Bjugey and Budish, speed with Rau
2nd line/ No. 11 Sam Warning -- No. 19 Erik Haula -- No. 21 Jake Hansen ... Haula has been Gophers' best player in playoffs
3rd line/ No. 16 Nate Condon -- No. 22 Travis Boyd -- No. 9 Taylor Matson ... lots of speed
4th line/ No. 14 Tom Serratore -- No. 13 Nico Sacchetti -- No. 17 Seth Ambroz ... two big hitters with Nico
No. 4 Seth Helgeson -- No. 12 Justin Holl ... two big guys
No. 10 Ben Marshall -- No. 20 Mark Alt ... Tampa paper had big story on Alt earlier in week on his football roots
No. 6 Jake Parenteau -- No. 29 Nate Schmidt ... Schmidt is closing in on 40 assists, has 38, key to power play
No. 35 Kent Patterson ... has started every game, rock on defense
THREE KEYS TO U WIN
1. Score early on Boston College ... or punch back quickly if BC scores; Gophers play better went not behind
2. Get a big game from top line ... big players play big in big games. Doesn't get much bigger than this
3. Patterson shines ... Kent Patterson has to be sharp because Parker Milner of BC is on fabulous roll
Bruce McLeod, the longtime commissioner of the WCHA, said he hopes Ferris State and the Gophers win in Thursday's semifinals.
The Gophers are a present member of the WCHA, he said, and Ferris State is a future member of the conference. The Bulldogs will leave the CCHA and join the WCHA in 2013-14 when the Gophers leave for the Big Ten Conference.
THE DON SAYS
Coach Don Lucia's thoughts on his players, coaches after the West Regional:
On second line right wing Jake Hansen: He has had a high motor all season long. ... He is not one of the focal points of our offense, but his game has really rounded out this year. He is as good a penalty killer as we have had all season long."
On third line left wing Nate Condon: He's got speed and seems to score big goals. He has been outstanding on the penalty kill. He is a good two-way defensive player as well."
On defenseman Nate Schmidt: He had a breakout year. A guy that we thought had the ability, the talent. He learned what it meant to work this past year, especially this offseason, getting himself iin great shape. He has earned everything he received this year. He is very deserving being a second team all-league player."
On what assistant coach Grant Potulny has added: "He has got the experience, having been through [a Frozen Four with the Gophers]. He works with the forwards on a daily basis, breaking down video and showing them line by line what they can and cannot do."
On goalie coach Justin Johnson: "Justin did a great job with Kent" Patterson the week before the West Regional.
On associate head coach Mike Guentzel: "certainly Mike Guentzel has been terrific all season long in working with the defensemen and penalty kill and has brought that enthusiasm as a great alum into our program again. ... Grant does a lot of the recruiting. He is gone more than anybody. He is kind of the recruiting coordinator. Mike does a lot of the video breakdown.
Boston College coach Jerry York on Wednesday said the anticipation of being in a Frozen Four was something special for him.
"So who knows if these are the four best teams in the country?" he said. "But we have earned the right to come here."
And game day is finally here.
Union College vs. Ferris State at 3:30 p.m. and BC vs. the Gophers at 7 p.m. in Tampa, Fla.
"To win one is certainly the stuff of dreams," said York, who has won three in his BC career in 2001, 2008 and 2010.
The Eagles' 17-game winning streak is not something his player dwell upon. There's a much bigger concern. "In the playoffs, if you lose, you go home," defenseman Tommy Cross said.
"We're hungry," senior forward Paul Carey said. "Last year wasn't the way we wanted to finish the season."
Colorado College, another WCHA, upset BC in the first round of the NCAA tournament in St. Louis. The Eagles were the third overall seed.
"It's a little different going from 90-degree weather onto the ice," Carey said. "But I think [the Tampa Bay Times Forum] is a great facility, great arena, venue, and we're excited to play here in Tampa Bay, and we've got a nice locker room, too.
"It's not easy to get here. But I think coach York has made it part of our culture, and each year he expects his teams to work hard and really try as hard as they can to get here."
VIEW OF GOPHERS
"The Gophers have been at the top of the national rankings all year," Cross said. "They come from a stories program with a lot of history. And for me, all you got to do is look at what they did last weekend or two weekends ago. They beat a really good Boston University team and a really good North Dakota team. So we know they've got a lot of good players.
"And Minnesota is playing some of their best hockey this season. And they like to play with speed and play with skill, and it should be a real exciting game."
Said Carey, "We know they can score a lot of goals. They just took over the most goals per game [nationally category] this past weekend. So I guess we are kind of focusing on that, and I think if we manage the puck correctly, then we'll be able to limit them."
"We're going to face a very, very good opponent," York said. "Haven't found many easy ones. When you get to this point, they're all tough."
This is York's 10th Frozen Four team in 15 years.
"It's making sure you have a lot of good players," York said, explaining the program's success. "And that is when players graduate, you recruit well, and your assistants do a good job recruiting, and then you have a lot of good players and they have to be focused on team goals.
"We feel at BC, that when you come into our program, that no one player is bigger than the Eagle. You're there for one purpose. You represent the school. Your focus is on winning trophies."
York said BC is winning because the players are playing smarter and goalie Parker Milner has gone from "a good goaltender to an exceptional goaltender. Assistant coach Jimmy Logue's done a great job with him. And Parker, he's not even close to what he was in November and December.
"... I thought goaltending was going to be a problem for us. Now it's a strength. He's matured, emotionally he's matured. His game's just a lot better.
Milner has not given up more than two goals in the past 16 games.
"He's been one of the real catalysts for us -- and here's a young guy that he did not make first-team all-league, did not make second team all-league, and did not get one vote for honorable mention [in Hockey East]. And probably rightfully so, if you thought about him and say is this Parker from January and December, but now you look at his numbers. ... This month and a half [he] has been phenomenal."
LIVE CHAT AT NOON
Want to talk Gophers hockey? Live chat is set for noon today at startribune.com/sports. I'm here in Tampa, Fla., have been since Tuesday soaking up as much college hockey as I can.
Went to all four news conferences on Wednesday -- and took notes. Put life and limb at risk by doing a video from players' bench during BC practice on Wednesday. No pucks came close, thankfully.
* The winner of the Hobey Baker Award will be named on a 5 p.m. show Friday on the NHL Network. The ceremony will be held at the MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa. Three finalists are Jack Connolly of UMD -- probably the favorite because of his overall career, I know it is for this year but career stuff is right there to see -- Spencer Abbott of Maine and Austin Smith of Colgate. All are senior forwards.
* Eighty-three of 108 players in Frozen Four are from the U.S., most of the others from Canada. The Gophers are all U.S. players except for Erik Haula, who is from Finland.
Forty-eight played in the USHL, 13 in the NAHL, 11 in the EJHL and 1 in Northern Pacific Hockey League.
The Gophers have 15 NHL draft picks on their roster, BC has eight, Union and Ferris State none.
* Single-day tickets are now available for $110 for either Thursday's semifinals or Saturday's championship game.
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.
Boston College hockey coach Jerry York broke a bit of news on Thursday during the Eagles' news conference.
Asked why BC and the Gophers don't play more often, he said that was going to change.
York said the Eagles are in the Gophers' 2012 holiday tournament, called the Mariucci Classic, and have a tentative agreement to play the next four seasons after that. Presumably a series one season in Boston and the next season in Minneapolis.
The last meeting between the Gophers and BC met was in 2008, when the Eagles beat the Gophers 5-2 in the first round of the Northeast Regional in Worcester, Mass.
The Gophers hold a 14-11-2 lead in the all-time series. York's teams are 3-3-1 against Minnesota. He became BC's coach in 1994-95.
That tie during York's career at BC will be broken at 7 p.m. Friday when the Eagles and Gophers play in the second semifinal of the Frozen Four in Tampa, Fla.
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