Gophers prepare for UND, Frozen Four

Minnesota lost to Boston College in the Frozen Four two years ago.

Minnesota forward Nate Condon tries to block a pass from Wisconsin forward Mark Zengerle on Sunday, Feb. 17, 2013, at Soldier Field in Chicago.

Daily File Photo, Emily Dunker

Minnesota forward Nate Condon tries to block a pass from Wisconsin forward Mark Zengerle on Sunday, Feb. 17, 2013, at Soldier Field in Chicago.

by Megan Ryan

When players reflect on past games, they tend to think about fantastic goals, acrobatic saves or the big win.

That’s not the case when the Gophers men’s hockey team reminisces about rival North Dakota. Those memories aren’t quite as fond — not even close.

“I remember going up there and having [Kyle] Rau get pulled out of the line when we’re shaking hands,” senior captain Nate Condon said, “or having Kevin Wehrs getting blown up in the corner, and it started a brawl between periods.”

Minnesota and North Dakota will add another chapter to the scrapbook Thursday when they face off in the Frozen Four in Philadelphia.

This is the Gophers’ second trip to the Frozen Four in the past three years. They lost to Boston College in the semifinals two years ago.

Minnesota and North Dakota battled annually from 1948 to 2013, but the conference realignment put a temporary hold on one of the most intense rivalries in college hockey.

They won’t meet again in the regular season until 2016-17, but fate stepped in and made sure hockey fans weren’t denied the bloodbath this season.

Gophers freshman forward Justin Kloos said after winning the West Regional that his class was concerned it would miss out on playing the traditional foes.

Condon said the freshman anticipation is just more proof that the tension between the two teams hasn’t lessened, even in separate conferences.

“There’s no motivation needed,” he said.

Gophers head coach Don Lucia said he’s sure fans will appreciate the matchup of two brand-name schools, but he said he’s more concerned with how similar the two teams are.

“They’re balanced,” he said of North Dakota. “They skate very well. They bring a lot of offense from their defensemen as a group, like we do. And they have a very good sophomore goaltender. In many ways, I look at North Dakota and see ourselves.”

No matter the similarities, Condon said competing against North Dakota is always exciting.

“Every time we play them, it [is] always a really fun game,” he said. “It’s always been physical, up and down the ice, and they’ve got some talented players.”

Condon recalled that most games against North Dakota in his career were tight one- or two-goal competitions, and he said he expects the same in the Frozen Four.

After the West Regional, Minnesota sophomore goaltender Adam Wilcox said that destiny probably couldn’t have planned a better game.

“I think that’s what both teams wanted,” Wilcox said.

If Minnesota beats its biggest rival Thursday night, it will play either Boston College or Union for the NCAA title Saturday night. The Gophers haven’t ended a season as national champions since 2002-03.