The state of Minnesota will account for a fourth of the NCAA men's hockey tournament field, with its close neighbor to the west, North Dakota, filling another spot in the 16-team tournament that begins Friday. Four of the five "local" teams competed in last year's tournament; Minnesota Duluth returns for the first time since 2012.

Minnesota (23-12-3): The Gophers were college hockey's preseason No. 1 and expected to compete for another national championship. They've dug themselves out of a midseason slump by winning 11 of their past 14 games and the Big Ten regular-season and tournament championships with back-to-back weekend sweeps. They're peaking at the right time.

Minnesota State Mankato (29-7-3): The Mavericks have been one of the top teams all season. They continue to set program records and achieve new feats, including college hockey's top ranking, a WCHA regular-season championship and the tournament's No. 1 overall seed. However, they are Minnesota's only Division I program that hasn't reached the Frozen Four.

Minnesota Duluth (20-15-3): The Bulldogs arguably played the toughest schedule this season, and that is reflected in their ranking, despite a disappointing end to the regular season and showing in the NCHC playoffs. They have won just one of their past seven games while battling injuries but have proved that they can compete with anyone when healthy.

St. Cloud State (19-18-1): The Huskies are barely an above-.500 team, but like Minnesota Duluth they have played one of the more difficult schedules. They've started to win again at the right time, winning four of their past five games to earn a spot in the NCHC tournament championship and improve their record just enough for an at-large bid. They have the tools to pull some upsets.

North Dakota (27-9-3): The NCHC's regular-season champ reigned on the top of the polls for most of the second half of the season. The run of success hit a snag, though, when North Dakota lost top goal-scorer Mark MacMillan for the rest of the season and lost three of its final five games, including both in the NCHC Frozen Faceoff. Despite those setbacks, UND is a No. 1 region seed.


NCAA men's hockey tournament


• First-round games are Friday and Saturday.

• Four Minnesota teams and North Dakota represent the region.

• Gophers: 4:30 p.m. Friday vs. Duluth • Manchester, N.H. • TV: ESPNU