Sam Harper, Daily File Photo
The Gophers have made such a habit of making the NCAA tournament that head coach Brad Frost reminded the team this week it was still an accomplishment to be proud of.
Minnesota has made the tournament in each of Frost’s nine seasons in charge and advanced to the Frozen Four seven times.
The team will have a chance to earn another trip to the Frozen Four on Saturday, when the third-seeded Gophers will play seventh-seeded Princeton at Ridder Arena.
“Knowing that we’re playing for our season, there might be more pressure. But we’re just ready to make the best of what we have,” junior assistant captain Lee Stecklein said.
The Gophers (32-4-1) earned home ice in the first round after finishing as the runners-up in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association Final Face-Off over the weekend.
The Gophers have an 8-0-1 all-time record against Princeton and swept the Tigers in the last two series the teams played in 2013 and 2014.
Minnesota has played on the road for the NCAA quarterfinals only once during Frost’s tenure. That game was the last time the Gophers lost in the first round and failed to make the Frozen Four. Senior forward Amanda Kessel is the only member of the team to play in that game and still be on the current roster.
Even with Kessel included, the team’s veterans have had more national championship celebrations than first-round exits.
“Last year, it was my first year, and we made it to the national championship, so I think I’m kind of spoiled in that aspect,” sophomore forward Cara Piazza said. “For the sophomore class, we just need to remember it’s a do or die kind of thing, and it’s not just going to be handed to us.”
To keep advancing to defend their 2015 national title, the Gophers will look to jumpstart an offense that was shut out by Wisconsin in the Final Face-off championship game.
Minnesota recorded 35 shots but couldn’t break through and went 1-8 on the power play combined in the semifinal and final rounds.
“We’re real sound defensively. We’ve got a great offense, just happened to not score that night, and it cost us,” Frost said. “So moving forward, we’ve got to find a way to put the puck in the net and play with that passion and that intensity to enable us to do that.”
If the Gophers offense is able to start clicking again, it could mean yet another ticket to the Frozen Four.
“We’re really getting down to the end of the season, so it’s time to bear down and figure things out during the week,” junior forward Dani Cameranesi said. “Obviously, we’re a little upset after last weekend, so we have to have a little more passion and heart coming into this weekend.”
Ben Gotz contributed to this report.