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Minnesota Hockey: NCAA West Region Final Vs Minnesota State Preview

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Can the Gophers get back to the Frozen Four for the first time since 2014?

Kyle Cooper

We know that a Minnesota team will advance to the NCAA Frozen Four from the West Regional, but tonight we will figure out which team it will be. Will it be the Gophers getting back to their first Frozen Four since 2014? Will it be Minnesota State making their first ever Frozen Four after finally winning their first ever NCAA Tournament game on Saturday? in a few hours we will know.

Minnesota advanced to tonight’s game with a 7-2 win over Omaha. The Gophers grabbed an early 3-0 lead and never looked back. Minnesota State needed to work much harder and came back from a 3-1 deficit to score the tying goal with the goalie pulled late in the third period and then won the game in overtime on a goal by Ryan Sandelin—UMD head coach Scott Sandelin’s son. Not a bad 8ish hours or so for that family.

Both teams feel the pressure—for the Gophers it’s living up to the #1 seed and trying to get to the Frozen Four from a non-Minnesota regional for the first time since 2003. For Minnesota State, the pressure is off somewhat as they won their first game finally and got that weight off of their shoulders. Now can they keep the momentum going and get to the program’s first Frozen Four?

Minnesota got scoring from all over last night. Freshman Mason Nevers scored his first two goals as a Gopher in the win. Freshman Brock Faber ended up tying an NCAA Tournament record with five assists on the night. Ryan Johnson scored his first goal as a Gopher that was not a 190-foot empty net heave. Sampo Ranta got on the scoresheet once again as well too. If Minnesota can do that again tonight, it bodes well for the Gophers. But Minnesota would really like to get Sammy Walker or Blake McLaughlin on the points tally. When those two are clicking, the Gophers click as a team. Getting them in the action early and often should send Minnesota to Pittsburgh.

The Gophers will need to do it without senior Brannon McManus however. The forward suffered an upper body injury in a collision with an Omaha player midway through the second period last night and did not return to the game. After the game Gophers coach Bob Motzko said he would not be available for tonight’s game. Nevers moved up to the third line and took most of McMannus’ shifts in the third period, and that would seem to be the similar move tonight. Jonny Issacson who was the extra skater last night will move into the lineup on the fourth line, and they extra skater will most likely be defenseman Robby Stucker.

The Gophers will need to shut down Minnesota State’s top scorers including Julien Napravnik who led the Mavericks with 26 points and 10 goals on the season. Reggie Lutz also has ten goals on the year for MSU. But the Mavericks are known for their goalie. Dryden McKay is a Hobey baker Finalist and a top three finalist for the Mike Richter Award—just like his counterpart in net Jack LaFontaine. McKay and LaFontaine have literally been the #1 and #2 goalies in the country this season. McKay has a 20-3 record and brings a 1.47 goals against average and a .928 save percentage into the game. He leads the nation with eight shutouts. However, cracks have been showing recently. McKay was pulled in Minnesota State’s WCHA Semifinal loss to Northern Michigan after giving up five goals in two periods. McKay gave up three quick goals to Quinnipiac before settling down and being his usual brick wall the remainder of the game and overtime. If Minnesota can get to him early...that might be the way to put the pressure back squarely on the Mavericks shoulders.

The teams are fairly evenly matched. Minnesota averages 3.9 goals per game to rank #3 in the country, Minnesota State scores 3.54 to rank 5th. The Mavericks give up 1.58 goals per game, #1 in the country, while the Gophers are not far back in 5th with 2.0 goals per game. Special teams once again could be key. The Mavericks are 4th in the country with a 26.67& score rate on the power play. Minnesota’s power play has struggled including going 0-2 last night. The Gophers 84.93% kill rate ranks 11th in the country. Minnesota State is right behind in 13th at 84.62. Minnesota needs to play their typically disciplined game and not give the Mavericks the man advantage.

KEYS TO THE GAME:

  1. Score early. Minnesota came out quick last night and showed no sense of a flat start. That needs to happen again. The Mavericks will be pumped up off of the adrenaline of winning the program’s first ever NCAA game. They will be buzzing early. If the Gophers can score quick, they can take away that momentum, and hopefully get into McKay’s head.
  2. LaFontaine must be great. Jack had a few close calls yesterday including nearly passing the puck right to an Omaha player after playing it in the corner. Of the two goals he let in, one was one of the weaker goals he has given up all season. He has to be on his game tonight, especially if McKay is.
  3. Get the top line in action. Walker and McLaughlin can not disappear. They must be a factor and must get on the scoresheet.
  4. Play smart. Stay out of the box, don’t try and get pretty and play your game. Minnesota State will be physical—but Omaha was too and Minnesota skated around them. It will not be as easy tonight, but the Gophers still should have a skill advantage. Use it.
  5. KEEP ON THE GAS. If you take a lead...do not play safe. Keep running it up. The Mavericks came back from a two goal defecit yesterday. They easily can do it again.

HOW TO WATCH

NCAA West Regional Final

#2 Minnesota State Mavericks vs #1 Minnesota Golden Gophers

Where: Budweiser Events Center, Loveland, Colorado

When: 7 PM

TV: ESPN2

Stream: WatchESPN

Radio: 1130AM/103.5FM/ I Heart Radio App