The Gophers, as expected, were assigned to the Fargo Regional as the top overall seed in the NCAA men's hockey tournament and will play No. 16 seed Canisius in the first round on Thursday. However, they won't be the only Minnesota team traveling up Interstate 94 to the Gateway of the West.
The NCAA selection committee also placed St. Cloud State and Minnesota State Mankato in Fargo, meaning all three Minnesota teams that advanced to the 16-team field will play in one regional. The No. 6 overall seed Huskies face the No. 11 Mavericks at 4 p.m. Thursday (ESPNU) at Scheels Arena. The Gophers will play Canisius at 8 p.m. (ESPN2). Saturday's regional final will start at 5:30 p.m. (ESPNU).
"I heard it was sold out, but I'm sure it was a lot of green people that bought those tickets," Gophers coach Bob Motzko said, referring to regional host North Dakota, which did not make the field. "There should be great crowds. We're anticipating some excitement in the building."
This isn't the first time the NCAA packed a regional with three Minnesota teams. In 2018, St. Cloud State, Minnesota State and Minnesota Duluth were in a regional in Sioux Falls, along with Air Force. UMD emerged as regional champion on its way to winning the Frozen Four in St. Paul.
"Obviously, we're familiar with both St. Cloud and Mankato. We played both this year," Motzko said. "But we've got a game in front of that to play."
To reach the Frozen Four for the second consecutive year, the Gophers (26-9-1) first must beat Canisius. The Golden Griffins (20-18-3) secured their spot Saturday with a 3-0 victory over Holy Cross in the Atlantic Hockey Association tournament final. Canisius finished fourth in the AHA regular-season standings. The Golden Griffins started the season 5-11-2 but are 15-7-1 since Jan. 13.
"We have one goal right now, and that's to win the game on Thursday," Gophers defenseman Mike Koster said.
If the Gophers reach the regional final, they will be very familiar with their opponent. Minnesota split a January series with St. Cloud State (24-12-3), falling 3-0 in St. Cloud in their only shutout loss of the season before winning 2-1 in overtime the next night in Minneapolis. On Oct. 7 and 8, the Gophers split a home-and-home series with Minnesota State (25-12-1), beating the Mavericks 4-1 in Minneapolis before falling 3-2 in Mankato.
Quinnipiac is the No. 2 overall seed in the NCAA tournament and will play Merrimack in the Bridgeport (Conn.) Regional on Friday. Harvard and Ohio State will meet in the other Bridgeport matchup.
Michigan landed the No. 3 overall seed and will play in the Allentown (Pa.) Regional, with a first-round matchup against Colgate on Friday. Host Penn State and Michigan Tech will play in the other Allentown first-round game.
Defending national champion Denver is the No. 4 overall seed and will play in the Manchester (N.H.) Regional, opening against Cornell on Thursday. Boston University faces Western Michigan in the other Manchester opener.
St. Cloud State beat Colorado College 3-0 on Saturday to win the NCHC tournament title and an automatic NCAA bid. Minnesota State made the NCAA field by edging Northern Michigan 3-2 in overtime in the CCHA final after scoring two goals with its goalie pulled in the final 2:19 of the third period.
The Huskies swept the Mavericks 3-2 and 4-3 in St. Cloud in October.
Motzko is eager for his team to get back on the ice quickly after Saturday night's 4-3 loss to Michigan in the Big Ten tournament final. Minnesota has played only two games over the past three weeks.
"The only problem I saw is 8 o'clock," Motzko joked about the night starting time. "I'd rather play at 8 in the morning."