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Gophers ranked first overall in NCAA men’s 16-team hockey draw

The Gophers, as expected, have been assigned to the Fargo Regional as the top seed in the NCAA Men’s Hockey Tournament and will face 16th-seeded Canisius in the first round on Thursday. However, they won’t be the only Minnesota team traveling Interstate 94 to the West Gate.

The NCAA selection committee also placed St. Cloud State and Minnesota State Mankato in Fargo, meaning the three Minnesota teams that qualified for the 16-team pool will play in one region. The No. 6 overall Huskies met the No. 11 Mavericks at 4 p.m. Thursday (ESPNU) at Scheels Arena. The Gophers will face Canisius at 8 p.m. (ESPN2). Saturday’s regional championship kicks off at 5:30 p.m. on ESPNU.

This isn’t the first time the NCAA has held a regional with three Minnesota teams. In 2018, St. Cloud State, Minnesota State, and Minnesota Duluth were in an area in Sioux Falls, with the Air Force. UMD became regional champion en route to winning the Frozen Four in St. Paul.

While placing three Minnesota teams in a region increases the state’s chance of having a Frozen Four team, it also means the state cannot advance more than one team to the Frozen Four on April 6-8. in Tampa, Florida. In 2021, Minnesota Duluth, Minnesota State and St. Cloud State qualified for the Frozen Four, while the Gophers and Bemidji State made regional finals.

To reach the Frozen Four for the second straight year, the Gophers (26-9-1) must first beat Canisius in the first round. The Golden Griffins (20-18-3) secured their spot on Saturday with a 3-0 win over Holy Cross in the Atlantic Hockey Association tournament final, scoring two empty-netter goals in the 1:28 final. Canisius finished fourth in the AHA regular season standings. The Golden Griffins started the season with a 5-11-2 record, but have gone 15-7-1 since Jan. 13.

If the Gophers make it to the regional final, they will know their opponent very well. Minnesota shared a January streak with St. Cloud State (24-12-3), losing 3-0 to St. Cloud in their only shutout loss of the season before winning 2-1 in overtime on the night next in Minneapolis. On October 7 and 8, the Gophers shared a home-and-away series with Minnesota State, beating the Mavericks 4-1 in Minneapolis before losing 3-2 at Mankato. Minnesota State has ended the Gophers’ season for the past two years, beating them 4-0 in the 2021 Loveland (Colo.) Regional Finals and 5-1 last year in the semifinals from Frozen Four in Boston.

Quinnipiac is the No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament and will face Merrimack in Bridgeport, Conn. on Friday. Harvard and Ohio State will meet in Bridgeport’s other game.

Michigan grabbed the No. 3 seed overall and will play in the Allentown, Pennsylvania area, with a first-round game against Colgate on Friday. Host Penn State and Michigan Tech will play in Allentown’s other first-round game.

Defending national champion Denver is the No. 4 seed overall and will play in the Manchester (NH) Regional, which kicks off against Cornell on Thursday. Boston University takes on West Michigan in Manchester’s other opener.

St. Cloud State beat Colorado College 3-0 on Saturday to claim the NCHC Tournament title and automatic NCAA bid. Minnesota State, a national finalist last year, made it into the NCAA pack for the fifth straight season by edging Northern Michigan 3-2 in overtime in the CCHA Finals. Trailing 2-0 with less than three minutes remaining, the Mavericks got extra goals from Ondrej Pavel at 17:41 and Christian Fitzgerald at 19:03 to equalize before Zach Krajnik scored 1:08 into extra time to win the match.

Bob Motzko is eager for his team to return to the ice after Saturday night’s 4-3 loss to Michigan in the Big Ten Tournament title game. As regular-season champions, the Gophers received a first-round bye while the other Big Ten teams played best-of-three series. Minnesota has only played two games in the past three weeks.

Minnesota is participating in the NCAA Tournament for the third consecutive year. They defeated Nebraska Omaha in the first round of the Loveland (Colo.) area in 2021 before falling to Minnesota State in the regional final. Last year, they beat Massachusetts and West Michigan to win the Worcester (Mass.) Regional and their first Frozen Four trip since 2014. The Gophers lost to Minnesota State in the national semifinals at Boston.

startribune Gt Itly

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