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.
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