Gophers prep for first North Star Cup

Minnesota will host the tourney held at the Xcel Energy Center.

Minnesota forward Kyle Rau assists on  Taylor Cammarata's goal in the second period against Ohio State on Friday at TCF Bank Stadium.

Amanda Snyder

Minnesota forward Kyle Rau assists on Taylor Cammarata’s goal in the second period against Ohio State on Friday at TCF Bank Stadium.

Megan Ryan

There was a time in the not-so-distant past when all five Division I hockey programs in Minnesota played in the same conference.

That changed this season with the development of the Big Ten hockey conference — a move that sent in-state rivalries in different directions to three separate conferences.

But this weekend, the University of Minnesota will host the inaugural North Star Cup and bring four of the five teams back together at the Xcel Energy Center.

The Gophers serve as permanent hosts of the annual tournament. One of the other four teams will rotate out each year.

Minnesota from the Big Ten conference, Minnesota-Duluth and St. Cloud State from the National Collegiate Hockey Conference and Minnesota State-Mankato from the Western Collegiate Hockey Association will compete this weekend. Bemidji State will sit out the first year.

For the four teams with many Minnesota natives on the roster, this tournament harkens back to high school days, as another “state championship” is up for grabs.

“It’s really just a battle of Minnesota teams,” freshman defenseman and Ham Lake, Minn., native Michael Brodzinski said. “So whoever wins is considered the No. 1 team in Minnesota.”

Brodzinski has even more of a stake in Minnesota’s first matchup against the Huskies. His older brother Jonny Brodzinski is a sophomore forward for St. Cloud State.

While the brothers, who talk every day, compete for bragging rights, Gophers head coach Don Lucia said the sibling rivalry will stay between the two.

“He was probably picked on when he was younger by big brother,” Lucia said. “And now it’s a chance to knock him on his rear end.”

Lucia said he’s most interested in how his team responds to two big hockey weekends back-to-back after the Hockey City Classic outdoors at TCF Bank Stadium last weekend.

“January can be a difficult month, I think, in college hockey because we do have such a long season,” Lucia said. “But these last couple of weekends gives you really something to look forward to.”

The Gophers won’t be the only team anticipating the North Star state reunion.

Now that the five programs have gone separate ways, this tournament will, for at least a couple of days, reunite the old conference and reignite rivalries.

Lucia said he hopes these games can help ease the transition into the new conferences.

“This has the opportunity to be a real highlight for all the teams during the course of the season,” he said.

Minnesota junior forward and captain Kyle Rau said the North Star Cup — the last nonconference games of the season for his team — is important for the crowd and players alike.

“I think the fans like it, and we like it too, because … a lot of guys stay around here that you grew up playing against,” Rau said. “It’s important just to keep the Minnesota schools together. That’s the biggest thing — keep something meaningful between us.”

Notes

Gophers senior defenseman Jake Parenteau has been cleared to play after breaking his leg in early December against Michigan State. Lucia said the coaches have still not made a decision on whether he will play this weekend.