Men’s hockey happy not to be host of Frozen Four party

Adam Fink

Home sweet home.

Or is it?

Last year Minnesota’s men’s hockey team won the national championship in St. Paul, a mere 15-minute drive from Mariucci Arena.

The majority of the 19,324 fans at the Xcel Energy Center cheered for Minnesota. The celebration of the team’s first title since 1979 spilled out onto the streets of Minnesota’s capital city and throughout Minneapolis.

But this year’s squad is younger, and traveling to Buffalo for Thursday’s national semifinal against Michigan might be a good change of environment for Minnesota (26-8-9).

Last year, a veteran group led by senior forward Johnny Pohl, senior defenseman Jordan Leopold and senior goaltender Adam Hauser anchored the Gophers lineup en route to the title.

“That was a lot of pressure to win last year in our own backyard,” alternate captain Paul Martin said. “A big part of the year was spent talking about how great it would be to get to the Frozen Four.

“If we would have lost, it would have been terrible.”

This year, Matt DeMarchi is the only senior who regularly plays in a lineup of 12 underclassmen.

The current Gophers squad felt some pressure at home this season. Playing in the NCAA West Regional on March 28-29, top-seeded Minnesota won games against Mercyhurst and Ferris State at Mariucci Arena to earn a trip to New York.

While it is hard to match ending a 23-year title drought in front of your own fans, Gophers coach Don Lucia thinks playing in Buffalo’s HSBC Arena will take some of the anxiety off.

“We have played in front of hostile crowds before and that should help us prepare,” Lucia said. “It is a lot to mentally handle when you are basically playing at home.”

Cornell will find that out when it faces New Hampshire in the early semifinal game Thursday.

The Big Red’s Ithaca campus in upstate New York is only 150 miles from Buffalo. Cornell is the closest Frozen Four participant to Buffalo. New Hampshire’s campus is an approximately six-and-a-half-hour drive away.

“We have a lot of expectations for ourselves,” Cornell coach Mike Schafer said. “We know our crowd will be supportive and hopefully that can make a difference.”