When the Gophers men’s hockey team faces Arizona State – yep, Arizona State – on Friday and Saturday in the final regular-season series at 3M Arena at Mariucci, there won’t be a lot at stake for either team.
Minnesota (14-15-4) knows it will host a first-round Big Ten playoff series the following weekend, and the Gophers can only observe as the remainder of the conference determines positioning.
The Sun Devils (21-10-1), the only Division I independent team, will finish their regular season and already have all but assured themselves of an NCAA tournament berth.
Still, Gophers coach Bob Motzko sees plenty of importance in the series, liking it to facing an unfamiliar opponent in an NCAA first-round tournament game.
“The fact that it’s at the end of the year,’’ he said. “Sometimes at Christmastime, they’re more like exhibition games. One is going to have more of a bigger feel. We’re sure trying to put that on our group. We’re getting ready for the playoffs. Let’s measure ourselves against the No. 8 team in the PairWise.’’
Motzko said it seemed strange not be playing the final weekend without conference positioning on the line.
“Usually, it’s heart attack city, it’s antacid time the last couple of weeks, which the rest of our league is going through,’’ he said. “We’ve got teams fighting for home ice and spots in the PairWise [Ratings]. I don’t think we can climb real high [in the PairWise]. But it’s an important weekend for us, don’t get me wrong.’’
It’s also important for a pair of freshmen – Gophers forward Nathan Burke from Scottsdale, Ariz., and Sun Devils forward Demetrios Koumontzis, a Minnesota Mr. Hockey finalist for Edina last year.
Burke said he’s had this game circled on the calendar “since the start of the season. My parents are already on the way out, and even my billet family from last year is on the way out. It’s an important weekend for me.’’
Burke was recruited by the Sun Devils but is comfortable in Minnesota. “This is my home now,’’ he said. There’s no place I’d rather be.’’
Koumontzis is excited to return to Mariucci and requested 32 tickets for friends and family.
“At this time last year, I was playing in a section final game,’’ he said Wednesday. “All my buddies are playing in it. I get to play there again, but on a different stage.’’
Koumontzis said he didn’t choose Arizona State because of the weather, but it has its advantages.
“Walking in flip-flops to every workout, it’s not something you can complain about,’’ he said.