The Gophers men’s hockey team’s season started more than six months ago. One way or another, it will conclude this weekend.
The team plays Boston College Thursday in the first round of the Frozen Four, the NCAA semifinals, in Tampa, Fla.
Minnesota has not won a national title since being back-to-back champions in 2002 and 2003, but it has the chance to climb to the top of the mountain again this weekend.
The Gophers will be underdogs Thursday against Boston College, but that is a role they have grown accustomed to all season.
Minnesota wasn’t supposed to win the WCHA this season — it was picked in the preseason to finish sixth in the league.
It was not supposed to get out of the NCAA West Regional. North Dakota was just hitting its stride, and some thought they would roll to the Frozen Four.
And Thursday, the Gophers are not supposed to beat the Eagles. But the players have other ideas.
“It seems like a week has turned into a month … but I think everyone is feeling pretty good about it right now,” Nate Schmidt said. “I think at this time of year, there aren’t really any Cinderella teams here — everyone is here for a reason.”
Schmidt doesn’t consider his team an underdog, but there is a viable reason observers might.
Boston College is on a 17-game winning streak that started Jan. 27 when it swept New Hampshire. Furthermore, goaltender Parker Milner did not allow a goal in the NCAA Northeast Regional.
“We know we’re going to be going into a war, and we have a lot of respect for BC, but I don’t think there is one person in that locker room that is going to Tampa for a vacation,” Jake Hansen said. “We’re going there with the expectation that we’re going to play our best hockey and hopefully get the W.”
The Gophers have not been to the Frozen Four since 2005, when they lost to North Dakota in the semifinal matchup. Before this season, Minnesota hadn’t made the NCAA tournament in three years.
This has been Minnesota’s best year since then, but Erik Haula said it is important the team won’t go to the Frozen Four and just be happy to be there.
“We worked hard for this, and we deserve it, so it’s rewarding to get there, but we know we’re not done yet,” Haula said. “We’re not satisfied yet.”
Boston College has six 30-point scorers on its roster and two players in the 40-point club, but Milner has been the team’s backbone all season.
Milner ranks third in the nation with a .935 save percentage in 32 games. He has only lost five games all season.
“It seems like in every big tournament, people just wait around a little bit for something to happen, so it’d be nice to be the first team to make that something happen,” Kyle Rau said.
Should the Gophers defeat the Eagles on Thursday, they will face the winner of the Ferris State and Union matchup in the championship game Saturday. If they lose, their season is done.
“We talked about it in our own league that if we’re going to be there in the end, we’ll have to go through North Dakota,” head coach Don Lucia said.
“We were able to do that. Based on what has happened in the last 10 years in the NCAA, if we want to be there at the end, we’re going to have to go through Boston College.”
UMN students have traveled to Florida colleges to collaborate with students on various projects.
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