Minnesota showcase set for Saturday

The inaugural State of Minnesota Hockey Showcase i s set for this Saturday with a pair of games featuring all four Minnesota-based Western Collegiate Hockey Association teams. With Minnesota-Duluth and St. Cloud State slated to play Saturday afternoon before a Minnesota/Minnesota State night cap, the Gophers locker room is buzzing with memories of the Xcel Energy Center, which will host SaturdayâÄôs games. âÄúItâÄôs just a great environment to play in,âÄù junior forward Jay Barriball said. âÄúItâÄôs real cool to play in the same rink as the Wild.âÄù Barriball notched a hat trick for the Academy of Holy Angels in the Stars 6-4 win over Moorhead and current Gophers sophomore defenseman Drew Fisher in the 2005 Minnesota State Class AA championship. Meanwhile, senior defenseman R.J. Anderson captured the 2004 AA title with Centennial in front of a national audience. âÄúThe year we were in it, Sports Illustrated did a special on Indiana basketball, Texas football [and Minnesota hockey],âÄù Anderson said. âÄúIt gives you a visual of how big it is in Minnesota and how everyone looks at it around the country.âÄù In all, 19 members of the Minnesota menâÄôs hockey team have made appearances in the state tournament. And for some of those that havenâÄôt played in the state tournament, the Xcel lends itself to the WCHA Final Five, which has hosted the event since opening its doors in 2001. âÄúWe played the Final Five there and weâÄôve got some memories from that with [former Gophers and current Boston Bruins forward Blake] WheelerâÄôs big goal in overtime over the Sioux [in 2007],âÄù Barriball said. âÄú[Playing at the âÄòXâÄô] doesnâÄôt lose its luster at all.âÄù Minnesota (3-0-1 overall, 3-0-1 WCHA) hasnâÄôt missed the WCHA Final Five since coach Don Lucia took over the program in 1999 âÄî back when the tournament was still played at the Target Center. But the Minnesota College Hockey Showcase may never reach the level of the Final Five or the state tournament. This could be the first and only Minnesota College Hockey Showcase as scheduling will likely limit the chances of seeing the event as early as next year. âÄúThat was one of our concerns when we initially started working on this,” WCHA Commissioner Bruce McLeod said last year . “We have a long association with hockey in the state of Minnesota and the fans have been clamoring for an event like this for many, many years. Now that we have something initiated, we feel a sense of responsibility to keep it going.âÄù Lucia said Minnesota would never give up a home game for the event as both the Bulldogs and Mavericks had to do in order for the event to take place this year. âÄúAs far as I know, the next [three to five] years âÄî IâÄôve seen our league schedule, and we donâÄôt happen to be playing the same weekend anyways, so itâÄôs a moot point.âÄù