Down to 4, Minn. after WCHA crown

The Gophers face UMD in the semifinals, and either UND or Wisconsin if they win.

Dane Mizutani

On to the next one.

Fresh off a sweep of Ohio State in the opening round of the WCHA playoffs, the third-ranked Gophers now have their sights set on a potential WCHA Final Faceoff championship.

In order to get there, they will first have to get by No. 6 Minnesota-Duluth (22-7-3, 18-7-3 WCHA) in the semifinal game Friday.

If Minnesota can get past the pesky Bulldogs, they will take on the winner of the Wisconsin-North Dakota matchup in the championship game Saturday.

This opportunity in the Final Faceoff is something head coach Brad Frost said hasnâÄôt changed his teamâÄôs mentality.

âÄúOur message remains the same âÄî to focus on our opponent at hand,âÄù Frost said. âÄúThis is the first time this season where there is the potential to play two different opponents [in the same weekend], but our focus is really Duluth on Friday.âÄù

It should be. UMD enters the semifinal game on an 11-game unbeaten streak and didnâÄôt allow a goal in its sweep of Minnesota State last weekend in Duluth.

Returning GophersâÄô players are far too familiar with the Bulldogs, who were an anathema to the Gophers a year ago.

Minnesota fell to the Bulldogs in the championship game of the WCHA playoffs last year, and two weeks later were again defeated by UMD in the NCAA semifinals.

Although Duluth seems to be peaking at the right point in the season, the Gophers have been on a hot streak of their own. Minnesota (25-8-2, 18-8-2) is 14-2-2 in its last 18 games,  something junior Anne Schleper said exemplifies the character of this yearâÄôs team.

âÄúI think the slow start at the beginning of the year was tough, but to be playing our best hockey in the second half of the year is what we want,âÄù Schleper said.

The Gophers got by UMD in their Jan. 15 matchup with a 3-0 victory.

âÄúWe canâÄôt rely on anything like that,âÄù Schleper said. âÄúWe just have to come out ready to play our game.âÄù

Regardless of the previous matchups, freshman Kelly Terry said it will be pivotal to stay out of the penalty box. MinnesotaâÄôs penalty kill has been phenomenal this year, fending off 159-of-177 opponent penalties.

âÄúWe can keep the puck out if we have a good penalty kill, but itâÄôs not very likely that were going to generate any offense and obviously we need that to win,âÄù Terry said.

Frost said there were three main goals entering the season: conference regular season, conference tournament and NCAA championships.

âÄúCertainly the NCAA tournament is our long-term goal. Wisconsin already won the conference championship, so now the goal put in front of us is this conference tournament,âÄù Frost said. âÄúWe want to go out and win this thing.âÄù