Gophers to travel to N.D. for NCAA regional

by Chris Lempesis

For a while now it’s been assumed Minnesota’s men’s hockey team would be placed in the West Regional of the 16-team NCAA Tournament.

What was assumed became definitive Sunday morning when it was announced that the Gophers will indeed begin their potential Frozen Four run in Grand Forks, N.D.

Top-ranked Minnesota (27-8-5 overall) has been given a No. 1 seed for the fifth year in a row – it is the No. 2 overall seed in the tournament, behind only Wisconsin – and will face Holy Cross (26-9-2), winner of the Atlantic Hockey Tournament, at 5:30 p.m. Friday at Ralph Engelstad Arena. It will be the first time the two schools have ever faced each other.

North Dakota (27-15-1) and Michigan (21-14-5) will face off in the other regional semifinal at 8:30 p.m. and the winners of the two games will meet at 8 p.m. Saturday for the right to advance to Milwaukee, site of the Frozen Four.

“It was looking like that for the last month of the season that (Grand Forks was) where we were going to end up going,” coach Don Lucia said Sunday. “So, I think the pairings all played out like we anticipated.”

While Lucia might have known that’s where his team would end up, he admitted he doesn’t know a lot, outside of some statistics – the Crusaders are 4-2 against teams from established conferences, for example – about the team they’re going to face.

“Looking at their roster, they have a very veteran group (13 upperclassmen),” he said. “So, they’re not real big which means they’re going to be quick. Every game is difficult in the NCAAs.”

On the surface, the game looks to be essentially a home game for the Gophers as Grand Forks is less than five hours from Minneapolis. But Lucia said he expects Sioux fans to show up and he doesn’t expect them to cheer for his team.

“They’ll be some Gopher fans,” he said. “But I can rest assured that every North Dakota fan will be cheering for Holy Cross. I think that’s pretty safe to say.”

Holy Cross is the least storied program in the bracket as Minnesota, Michigan and North Dakota all have won a pair of national titles in the past 10 years.

But if the Gophers are to make the next step toward another Frozen Four appearance, it starts with a win over the Crusaders.

And about the possibility of facing off with one of its archrivals, North Dakota, Saturday for the right to advance to the Bradley Center, site of the Frozen Four? Lucia’s not even thinking about it.

“All I’m worried about is getting through on Friday night,” he said. “I’m not going to worry about what may or may not happen on Saturday.”

Lucia’s comments eerily mirror the one’s made by North Dakota coach Dave Hakstol on Saturday night after his team won the Western Collegiate Hockey Association’s Final Five Tournament title.

“To be honest with you, not really concerned about who we’re playing Saturday,” Hakstol said.

North Dakota-Michigan

While Lucia and company have some learning to do about Holy Cross, Lucia did offer up some analysis of the game between the Sioux and the Wolverines.

“I think it’ll be a really entertaining game,” Lucia said.

“Both Michigan and North Dakota play the game up and down the rink and have some outstanding players and both teams are young. I think it’ll be a terrific game. I think North Dakota probably has an edge with the proven goalie in Jordan Parise.”