The Gophers men's hockey team is preparing for their run at the postseason, where they will battle a familiar foe in the Big Ten quarterfinals: the Notre Dame Fighting Irish.
The two teams have met before in the regular season with their last meeting just three weeks ago and they've got history in the postseason too. Last year, Minnesota and Notre Dame faced off in the Big Ten semifinals as the Fighting Irish ended the Gophers' season in heartbreaking fashion after a questionable penalty was called on the Gophers in overtime, resulting in a 2-1 loss.
But with so many young players on the roster, many of them weren't around to feel the sting of that loss, and that's something forward Blake McLaughlin sees as an advantage.
"It's sort of better for us that [the] twelve, thirteen, guys that were on the team last year can just put it behind them and not worry about it ... and the other half has yet to experience not making the tournament," he said.
McLaughlin knows the stakes for this weekend's series, and he's fully embracing the challenge it will be, saying that playoff hockey is something players get excited for at every level of play. And while it's harder to make heroic plays at the collegiate level, the team is ready to band together and do whatever they can on the ice to ensure a deep playoff run.
While it's a new experience for the team's freshmen, this postseason feels like a bit of deja vu.
The similarities to last year are certainly there. Along with playing Notre Dame late in the regular season only to turn around and play them again in order to in a do-or-die situation, the outlook of the Gophers is very similar. Again, Minnesota is a team that has rebounded in the second half and has something to prove.
"We just played each other, there are no secrets this time of year," Gophers head coach Bob Motzko said.
After last weekend's rough outing, focus in practice this week was important, but the team was making sure not to push themselves too hard, said senior captain Tyler Nanne.
The team was off of practice on Tuesday, but the intensity in their workouts this week has been good as they work on their systems in addition to watching game film.
"I think sometimes you might get wrapped up in a big weekend and stress on Wednesday when really you should be working on the fundamentals and getting back to simple play. This week's gone by so far so good and we're looking forward to Thursday and Friday." Nanne said.
The first game of the best-of-three quarterfinal series starts at 7 p.m. on Friday at 3M Arena at Mariucci.