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Gophers prepare for Frozen Four matchup against 1970s rival Boston

The Gophers men’s hockey team lead the Terriers 2-1 in Frozen Four matchups, but Boston is undefeated against Minnesota in the National Championship.
Image by CJ Bonk
Forward John Mittelstadt waits for the puck drop at the game against Ohio State on Friday, Feb. 24.

For the 23rd time in both Minnesota’s and Boston’s program histories, they will play in the Frozen Four. The semifinal game will be broadcast on ESPN2 at 4 p.m. Thursday.

The head-to-head history of the two perennial powers is deadlocked at 12 games apiece. Boston most notably defeated the Gophers by a score of 4-2 to earn their first title in the 1971 National Championship.

Minnesota fired back in 1974’s Frozen Four, winning 5-4 en route to head coach Herb Brooks’ first national title. The two blue bloods met again in 1976, with the Gophers toppling the Terriers 4-2 in the Frozen Four. That 1976 game is iconic not just because of the stakes — it included a massive bench-clearing brawl.

“The ’76 game with the big fight in Denver still sticks in my craw,” former Boston head coach Jack Parker told Tim Rappleye of College Hockey News. “That was probably the best team I ever had that didn’t win the National Championship.”

Both Brooks and Parker won three championships at their respective schools during their coaching tenures. Minnesota and Boston met nearly 20 years later in 1994, with Boston achieving their first national semifinal win over the Gophers 4-1.

“Depth,” Minnesota head coach Bob Motzko said when asked what he admires most about his opponent. “All four lines can score, a couple of defensemen that are highly offensive and dangerous. They’ve got a lot of seniors with 29 wins. On paper, I pick it up, and then you watch film and confirm that this team deserves to be here.”

Motzko has reason to be wary not just of his opponent but the location of the game. The last time the Gophers traveled this far south for a hockey game, they had a surprisingly tough two-game series versus the sub-.500 finishing Arizona State. They narrowly conquered the Sun Devils 3-2 in the first match but lost 6-5 in overtime during the second meeting on Thanksgiving weekend.

According to Motzko, his team got into “vacation mode” too quickly down in Tempe, Arizona.

“It was an unfortunate ending last year, and it’s something you go to bed thinking about,” said Gophers team captain Brock Faber, who was a starting defenseman on the 2022 Frozen Four team, which lost to Minnesota State-Mankato 5-1. “With all the cameras and being in Tampa, you’re gonna want to walk around and go to the beach, but we need to try to stay focused and bring home a national championship.”

In their downtime during the NCAA tournament, Faber and his teammates frequently watch a plethora of movies, from action flicks to rom-coms, to relax.

On the other end of the rink, current Boston head coach Jay Pandolfo is experienced in stopping top-tier lines like Minnesota’s, which features two Hobey Baker Hat Trick Finalists Logan Cooley and Matthew Knies. The Terriers’ convincing 5-1 first-round win over the explosive WMU trio of Polin, Sasson & McAllister is proof the Bostonians can hang with the best of lines.

“Big thing for us is to make sure to manage the puck, know who you’re out there against, try to take away time and space,” Pandolfo said. “The Minnesota line is arguably the best in the country; you don’t want it to be an up-and-down game when they’re on the ice. When it’s time to put pucks deep … it’s a lot harder instead of turning pucks over in the neutral zone and letting them come in transition.”

A player to watch on the Boston Terriers is freshman defenseman Lane Hutson. He is the highest-scoring D-man in the country (7th overall) with 15 goals and 33 assists, totaling 48 points. Hutson totaled more points per game than Boston’s 2019 Hobey Baker Award winner, Cale Makar. One could make a valid case that Hutson was snubbed from the same award this season.

Senior forward Matt Brown is also a force on the offensive end, tallying 16 goals and 30 assists this season.

It’s also noteworthy that Boston is 21-0 when scoring first in hockey games this season. Similar to their game against St. Cloud State, where the Gophers outshot the Huskies 14-6 with Fargo Regional MVP Bryce Brodzinski netting the first goal of the game, Minnesota needs to have an excellent first period.

The Gophers defeated in-state rival St. Cloud State 4-1 in the Fargo Regional Final and the Terriers beat Cornell 2-1 in the Manchester Regional Final.

“It’s hard hockey,” Faber said. “St. Cloud was a Frozen Four caliber team, and it’ll be the same pace.”

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