The Gophers have had their highs and lows this season; they know they can't have any more slip-ups.
The Gophers men's hockey team has skills. Winning the MacNaughton Cup alone offers ample evidence.
At their best, the Gophers have gone to Minnesota Duluth and beaten the defending national champion Bulldogs twice on their home rink early in the season. They routed North Dakota 6-2 in January at the raucous Ralph in Grand Forks. And last week, in Final Five semifinals, they looked in complete control against UND for the first 30 minutes ... until they melted down.
North Dakota, which officially has to scrap its Fighting Sioux nickname and logos this weekend or incur the NCAA's wrath, rallied from a 3-0 hole to stun the Gophers 6-3.
This weekend, both the Gophers and North Dakota are in the NCAA West Regional at Xcel Energy Center. The Gophers face Boston University, while North Dakota will face Western Michigan.
But can the Gophers bounce back from such a stunning loss? Can they win the regional and reach the Frozen Four for the first time since 2005?
Will the team that started the season 9-1 and finished it 7-1 before the Final Five loss show up Saturday? Or will the other team that was 10-10-1 in the middle of the season?
Gophers coach Don Lucia said his players have forgotten the UND loss.
"You have to learn from it," he said, "but also put it quickly behind you. Because whether it is last Friday night or coming back from Denver [where the Gophers were swept in mid-February], you can't allow what happened the week before to affect you the following week. And our guys have done a good job of putting it behind us.
"You just have to play this time of the year. Your best players have to be your best players, and many times you have to have a player step up that maybe wasn't a big scorer. You have to have everybody on board."
Shaun Goodsell, a goalie for St. Anthony in the early 1980s and now a performance coach for Mental Edge, said the Gophers will be fine if they focus on what they can control. Goodsell has a master's in counseling psychology and has worked with athletes, mostly hockey players, for more than 20 years. Lucia brings Goodsell in at the beginning of the season. He gives the team's freshmen personality tests and offers them mental tips.
Goodsell said the Gophers, like all athletic teams, need three traits to perform consistently well: a clarity of focus, emotional stability and confidence to take risks.
He said he would advise the Gophers to view their recent loss to UND as a gift -- rather than a curse -- in preparation for a run to the national championship. The New York Giants struggled, for instance, Goodsell said, but learned through their losses and won the Super Bowl.
The Gophers are 8-3-1 this season after a loss and 15-3-1 on Saturdays. Two positive signs before the Boston University game.
Clarity: Focus on BU
"Getting over BU is all we are focused on," Gophers sophomore Erik Haula said, "and playing to the best of our ability."
Nick Bjugstad, another sophomore center, knows what the Gophers' top line needs to do. "We just kind of sat back in the third period [against UND] and did not do much," he said. "We have to be dialed in from the start to the end. That's the biggest issue."
Defenseman Nate Schmidt said the seniors and captains called a team meeting and delivered a direct message the Gophers' quick exit from the Final Five.
"This can't happen anymore," he said, "otherwise we will be sitting at home watching [the NCAA tournament on] TV the rest of the year."
Stability: A goal
Assistant coach Grant Potulny said the Gophers have to realize how abruptly a game can change.
"Emotions ebb and flow," he said. "You have to be able to keep your emotions in check whether you're having success or struggling."
Potulny can speak with authority. He scored the game-winner when the Gophers beat Maine in overtime in the 2002 national championship game, also at Xcel Energy Center.
"You have to continue to stay with the game plan, the process," Potulny said. "You're there for a reason, because you're a good team. You're going to create an opportunity to get back in the game. That's the biggest thing: whether it's 60 minutes or 75 or 100, you've got to be prepared to play the whole thing. You don't want to lose the game in the 10 minutes when you're not paying attention."
Last week, North Dakota scored five goals in a span of 10 minutes, 39 seconds in the third period.
"It's impossible to win a game in 10 minutes, but you can lose it in 10 minutes," Potulny said. "You've got to be ready the whole game, and you can't let your last shift affect your next one.''
Confidence: It starts in net
Gophers goalie Kent Patterson has started every game this season.
So is he excited about his 41st start in a row? "Absolutely," he said. Nervous? "No."
He trusts his teammates. "We are a hard-working team," Patterson said. "We are physical. We've got a number of strong guys. We have scoring and we have defense."
Patterson, of course, is the backbone of that defense.
"We have had success and the WCHA is a hard league," Patterson said. "We know that if we play our game and do what works for us -- block shots, score and all those things -- then we will move on."
Staff writer Rachel Blount contributed to this report.
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