Myers: Gophers get Yale, could see UND once more in NCAA tournament
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MINNEAPOLIS - While the NCAA's 16-team tournament field was being announced on Sunday night, Gophers coach Don Lucia was on a plane headed home from Michigan, where earlier in the day he'd watched his son Mario and Notre Dame win the CCHA playoff title in Detroit. The elder Lucia and his Gophers team will be heading back to Michigan later in the week, as the top seed in the NCAA West Regional.
Friday afternoon at Van Andel Arena in downtown Grand Rapids, Mich., the Gophers will face Yale in the tournament opener. If they get past the Bulldogs they will face either North Dakota or Niagara on Saturday with a return trip to the Frozen Four on the line.
The Gophers' last game was one they'd like to forget, as they fell to Colorado College 2-0 on Friday in the WCHA tournament's semifinals. But last year they also lost in the WCHA semifinals, then bounced back to win a pair of games in the NCAA tourney and get to the Frozen Four in Florida.
"In some ways we're in the same situation as last year," said Gophers defenseman Seth Helgeson, the team's lone senior. "We're just looking to have a good week of preparation and get ready to play on Friday. ...
"I can't think of the last time we played an Ivy League school. But I'm sure the coaches will do a good job and by the end of the week we'll know everything about them."
It's an opponent and an arena that the Gophers have not seen in a long time. Yale finished third in the ECAC this season, and is 18-12-3 overall. Their last meeting with the Gophers was a 7-3 win by the U of M in December 2002. The Gophers last trip to Grand Rapids was for the 2004 West Regional, where they beat Notre Dame in the first round before falling to Minnesota Duluth in the regional final.
"They can skate with Minnesota, no question, and their defense can move the puck and get in the play," said TV analyst Dave Starman, who is also an NHL scout. "They're Minnesota light. They have the same battle plan as Minnesota, but they don't have the high-end guys that Minnesota has."
The last game of the modern WCHA was Saturday night in St. Paul, but there's a distinct WCHA flair to the bracket, with six of the 16 teams coming from the western league. Along with the Gophers and North Dakota playing in West Michigan, Denver and Wisconsin will both go to Manchester, N.H., for the Northeast Regional, and two Minnesota teams - St. Cloud State and Minnesota State - are headed to the Midwest Regional in Toledo, Ohio.
The Gophers have made it to the Frozen Four in four seasons under Lucia's tutelage. They won the title in 2002 (in St. Paul) and 2003 (in Buffalo), and lost in the national semifinals to North Dakota in 2005 (in Columbus) and to Boston College last season in Tampa.
Many fans were anticipating a Minnesota-North Dakota meeting last weekend in St. Paul. Instead they could get such a matchup on Saturday in Grand Rapids if both teams win their first round games. Last season the Gophers got to the Frozen Four by beating North Dakota in the West Regional final in St. Paul, and would love to repeat that accomplishment to get to Pittsburgh for this year's Frozen Four.
"That's what we're looking for," Helgeson said. "We're not looking ahead at all, but if we got a chance to play them again, that would be great."
The Gophers game vs. Yale will be at 1 p.m. Friday, televised by ESPNU.