Gophers host BU in first NCAA appearance since 2008

Minnesota can advance to the Frozen Four with 2 wins this weekend.

Minnesota sophomore center Erik Haula leads the team with 46 points this season.

Image by Nicola Losik, Daily File Photo

Minnesota sophomore center Erik Haula leads the team with 46 points this season.

by Dane Mizutani

The University of Minnesota’s men’s hockey team solemnly skated off the ice at the Xcel Energy Center last Friday after an embarrassing 6-3 loss to North Dakota.

The Gophers blew a three-goal lead in that game by giving up five goals in a train wreck third period.

They were battered after the loss, and they were visibly distraught in the postgame press conference.

But the next morning, the team was back at practice attempting to escape the nightmare from the day before.

“We came back and practiced on Saturday,” said head coach Don Lucia. “We had a good one-hour skate because we felt it was important to put last weekend behind us.”

Minnesota has since moved on and focused its attention solely on Boston University this weekend.

The Gophers will host BU on Saturday and will return to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2008.

There was excitement amid the team Wednesday. It will be the first tournament appearance for any player on the current roster.

“This is probably the most important game I’ve ever played in my career,” Nate Schmidt said. “It might be a couple days away, but we’re still thinking about it.”

Lucia said there was added pressure this year to get back to this stage. He added, however, that his team cannot get complacent now that it’s made it in.

Minnesota will compete in the NCAA West Region with a berth to the Frozen Four on the line.

“We can’t just go to the tournament and be like, ‘Oh, we got here,’” sophomore Erik Haula said. “We’ve got to have the mentality that we’re going to win and go to the Frozen Four.”

In order to get there, the Gophers will need to beat BU on Saturday and follow that up with a victory against either Western Michigan or UND.

There is a possibility of a rematch with UND on the horizon, but that was not the focus of any player on Wednesday.

“I think Saturday is going to be the toughest game so far this year, and getting over BU is all we’re focused on,” Haula said. “If we don’t win Saturday, the season is over, so all focus is going into Saturday, and we’ll see where it takes us.”

BU has had a shaky season thus far and has had to overcome a series of off-ice incidents.

Earlier this season both Corey Trivino and Max Nicastro were dismissed from the team after separate cases involving sexual assault. Trivino was the leading scorer in the Hockey East at the time of the incident, and Nicastro was a large-bodied defenseman on the Terriers blue line.

Losing those key players hurt, but since then the team regained its composure and finished the season 23-14-1.

“It happened long enough ago; I think they’ve been able to get their lineup together and how they want to play,” Lucia said. “I know watching them on tape that they’ve got good skill. I know that they’re very physical.”

The Terriers boast three 40-point scorers on their roster: Alex Chiasson (44), Matt Nieto (42) and Chris Connolly (40).

Veteran netminder Kieran Millan leads the team from the crease. Millan was a member of the 2009 BU team that won the national championship.

Despite the talent on the opposing roster, Minnesota is just trying to focus on itself this weekend while continuing to move on from the loss last weekend.

“We’ve had our swagger. We have a great team, and we know it,” Haula said. “We’ve showed how well we can play against good teams like we did in the first half [of the game] against North Dakota.”

That first half of the game against UND might have been the best hockey the Gophers have played all season.

Unfortunately, the season-long bout with inconsistency resurfaced in the 6-3 losing effort as well, when Minnesota struggled immensely in the final 30 minutes.

“We’ve just got to move on and, if anything, use that loss as a little bit of motivation to continue on,” senior goalie Kent Patterson said. “We’re in the NCAA tournament this year, and we want to go all the way.”