Minnesota set for WCHA Final Five

Dane Mizutani

Minnesota will return to the WCHA Final Five at the Xcel Energy Center for the first time in three years on Friday. The Gophers earned the No. 1 seed in the WCHA playoffs with a 20-8-0 league record throughout the season. Minnesota will face the winner of the Thursday game between St. Cloud State and North Dakota.  

"It becomes more about yourself at this point of the season," head coach Don Lucia said Wednesday. "No matter who we see on Friday night we've played them four previous times, so I don't think there's going to be too many surprises."  

The Gophers went 3-1-0 against both SCSU and UND this season and enter the WCHA Final Five fresh of a sweep of Alaska Anchorage in the opening round of the WCHA playoffs.

Erik Haula paced Minnesota with six points in the first-round series and has been the spark plug for the team lately. He will play in the Xcel Energy Center this weekend as a possible preview for where he could a majority of his games after his playing days with the Gophers are over. Haula was drafted by the Minnesota Wild in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft.

"That's obviously been my ultimate goal ever since I first put on the skates," Haula said of his NHL prospects. "It's going to be a little bigger stage, but we've just got to make sure … we're all focused on the main thing."

That main thing Haula is talking about, for the time being, is the WCHA Final Five. Although many players would not voice a preference for opponent between SCSU and UND this weekend, senior captain Taylor Matson had no problem expressing who he'd rather play: North Dakota. 

"That's my biggest rival and I think a lot of guys in the locker room can say that too," Matson said. "There's nothing like playing North Dakota, especially at the Xcel, it would be something special."

Should the Gophers win their matchup on Friday they will play either Michigan Tech, Denver, or Minnesota-Duluth in the championship game on Saturday night.