For Bob Motzko, it’s a homecoming. For Mike Hastings, it’s a surprising destination with a short bus ride. And for Scott Sandelin, it’s time to take advantage of an unlikely opportunity to play on.
When the NCAA revealed its 16-team men’s hockey tournament field Sunday, three Minnesota teams made it — Motzko’s St. Cloud State Huskies, Hastings’ Minnesota State Mankato Mavericks and Sandelin’s Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs. And all three are going to the same place, Sioux Falls for the West Regional.
St. Cloud State, the No. 1 overall NCAA seed and top seed in the region, will play fourth-seeded Air Force at 3 p.m. Friday at the Denny Sanford Premier Center. Second-seeded MSU Mankato will face third-seeded Minnesota Duluth at 6:30 p.m. The winners meet in Saturday’s 8 p.m. final for a trip to the Frozen Four at Xcel Energy Center.
The other No. 1 seeds went to Notre Dame (East), Cornell (Northeast) and Ohio State (Midwest).
“We’re fired up to be back in that tournament,” said Motzko, whose Huskies (25-8-6) won the NCHC regular-season title a year after missing out on the NCAA tournament.
Motzko will return to Sioux Falls, where he was coach and general manager of the USHL’s Stampede from 1998 to 2001. “Two of our kids were born in Sioux Falls, and we really loved living there,” he said. “We had nothing but great experiences.”
Motzko isn’t about to overlook Air Force (22-14-5), which last year upset Western Michigan in the NCAA first round before falling 3-2 to Harvard in a regional final.
“You can’t be anything short of your best when you play Air Force, because they are a battle-tested, driven hockey team that is not intimidated by anything,” Motzko said.
Hastings guided MSU Mankato (29-9-1) to the WCHA regular-season title and sees the proximity of the regional as a positive. “We’re happy where we were put as far as a region, just because of locale,” he said.
However, he didn’t expect his team to be playing in a region with two other Minnesota squads. “It’s one that was a little bit surprising, but we’ll take it.”
Minnesota Duluth (21-16-3) made the NCAA field as the final at-large team when the results of six conference championship games Saturday night knocked out the Gophers.
“What a weird year,” said Sandelin, whose team lost to North Dakota in the NCHC third-place game Saturday. “… The body of work throughout the year is why you’re in. It allowed us a little bit of a hiccup, but it gave us a chance to regroup and restart. And keep playing hockey. That’s the exciting thing.”