Gophers will play Yale in first round of NCAA regional hockey

  • Article by: RACHEL BLOUNT , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 25, 2013 - 12:13 AM

Minnesota has the No. 1 seed in the West Region of the NCAA tournament and will play Friday.

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Head coach Don Lucia and Gophers players

Photo: Carlos Gonzalez, Star Tribune

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There wasn’t a great deal of suspense as the Gophers gathered Sunday evening to watch the selection show for the NCAA men’s hockey tournament. They had known for several days that they would be the No. 2 overall seed, and they expected they would be assigned to the West Regional with Yale as their likely opponent.

It played out just that way, but that didn’t lessen their excitement. After watching the Gophers’ women’s team win the NCAA championship next door at Ridder Arena, the players assembled in the team lounge at Mariucci Arena and learned where their own NCAA journey would begin. They will play Yale at 1 p.m. Friday at Van Andel Arena in Grand Rapids, Mich., with a possible showdown against longtime rival North Dakota in the regional final Saturday.

North Dakota, the No. 2 seed in the West Region, will play Niagara in Friday’s second game. Five other WCHA teams made the tournament. Minnesota State Mankato and St. Cloud State were placed in the Midwest Regional in Toledo, Ohio, while Wisconsin and Denver will travel to the Northeast Regional in Manchester, N.H.

The Huskies will face Notre Dame, the No. 4 overall seed, at 12:30 p.m. Saturday. The Mavericks will play Miami (Ohio) in the second game. Wisconsin will face Massachusetts-Lowell, the No. 3 overall seed, Friday at 3:30 p.m., with Denver drawing host team New Hampshire in the second game.

Gophers coach Don Lucia was unavailable for comment Sunday. He was traveling back to the Twin Cities from Detroit, where he watched his son Mario — a freshman at Notre Dame — set up the winning goal as the Irish defeated Michigan for the CCHA tournament title.

His players were preparing to move on from the disappointment of Friday’s semifinal loss to Colorado College in the WCHA Final Five and face Yale for the first time in postseason play.

“It was fun for us to see the women’s team win,’’ Gophers captain Zach Budish said. “It kind of gets you excited and emotional to see a celebration like that. We pretty much knew we’d be playing Yale in Grand Rapids, but it’s still fun to see your name pop up.’’

The top-ranked Gophers will make their 34th NCAA appearance and their second in a row. They are eager to move on from their 2-0 loss to Colorado College in the Final Five semifinals, which ended a five-game winning streak.

Lucia noted that the Gophers have been resilient all season. They have not lost back-to-back games, and they were clearly irritated by their early exit from the Final Five. Budish said the Gophers must compete with more ferocity in the NCAA tournament, paying special attention to finishing checks and limiting turnovers.

St. Cloud State, which shared the WCHA regular-season championship with the Gophers, slipped into the field despite a loss to Wisconsin in the Final Five semifinals. The Huskies will make their ninth appearance in the NCAA tournament and their first since 2010.

“We had to sweat it out down the stretch to get in,’’ coach Bob Motzko said. “But we are a team that deserves to be in this tournament. (Playing Notre Dame) is going to be a big challenge, but our league really prepares you for this type of challenge.’’

The Mavericks will be making only their second appearance in the NCAA tournament. Their first came in 2003, and first-year coach Mike Hastings watched the selection show with his team, fans and alumni at a sports bar in Mankato.

“It’s really special when you see your emblem up there, to be considered one of the top 16 teams in the country,’’ he said. “We’re looking forward to getting ready for Miami. They’re a very impressive team.’’

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