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Predictions and Previews: Gophers Shoot For Sixth National Championship

04/05/2012, 4:47am CDT
By Thom Wynn

The Gophers play Boston College in the Frozen Four Thursday night.


Don Lucia instructs the Gophers at a recent practice in Tampa.

It has been seven years since the University of Minnesota Men's Hockey team participated in a Frozen Four, losing to North Dakota in the 2005 semifinal by a 4-2 score. This year it was the Gophers beating North Dakota in the NCAA West Region final to get back to the Frozen Four, where they will meet the hottest team in the country Thursday night at the Tampa Bay Times Forum, the Boston College Eagles. The Gophers are playing in their 20th Frozen Four, and 33rd NCAA Tournament appearance overall. They are going for their sixth NCAA Championship, and third under Don Lucia in the last 10 years (2002 & 2003).

 

Boston College (31-10-1), the champions of Hockey East, come in ranked #1 in the most recent U.S. College Hockey Online poll, winning eighteen games in a row after starting the season 14-10-1. The Eagles are a talented team top to bottom, with balanced scoring, and a solid defense, allowing just 2.07 goals per game. The Eagles are anchored by goalkeeper Parker Milner, who has grabbed most of the headlines coming into the NCAA tournament, sporting seventeen straight wins, and a gaudy 1.11 goals against average and a .960 save percentage in those games.

 

The Gophers (26-13-1), champions of the WCHA, are ranked #6 in the most recent USCHO poll. Gopher goalkeeper Kent Patterson has been overlooked in this years Frozen Four for the most part, despite being named the Most Outstanding Player of the West Regional, and having an outstanding season in net for Minnesota. The game versus Boston College will be Patterson's sixty fourth straight start, established a new Gophers single season shutout record this year with seven, to go along with a 2.24 goals against average, and a .911 save percentage. Offensively, Minnesota has the nation's number one offense, leading the NCAA with 154 goals and 3.67 goals per game. Defensively, a young and inexperienced Gopher back line has been surprisingly strong this season, tying for eighth in the country in team defense. Minnesota allowed just 2.21 goals per game.

 

It should be a good game between two evenly matched teams, and two schools with a lot of success historically. Both Head Coach Jerry York of Boston College, and Don Lucia of Minnesota, point to "buying in" or "committing" to team concepts, as being the biggest factor in their teams success this season. Head to head, the Gophers hold a 14-11-2 advantage all time against Boston College, including a 14-1 win in their first meeting ever. The last meeting between the two teams was won by the Eagles during the NCAA Northeast Regional in March of 2008, by a 5-2 final. Boston College went on to beat North Dakota in the NCAA title game at the Pepsi Center in Denver Colorado that year.

 

In the first semifinal, it will be the #3 ranked Union College (NY) Dutchmen (24-7-7), under rookie head coach Rick Bennett, taking on the #9 ranked Ferris State Bulldogs (23-11-5), a couple of schools playing in their first ever Frozen Four. Ferris State won the CCHA regular season title, while Union College were champions of the ECAC. The game pits two defense first squads, so look for a low scoring game.

 

Oddly enough, both Ferris State and Union were participants in the 2010 Mariucci Classic, along with the Gophers and Bemidji State. Bemidji State would win the tournament, beating Ferris State 3-2, and Union 3-1, while the Gophers would lose to Union 3-2 in overtime, and then tie Ferris State 2-2. The Gophers have a 3-1-1 record all time against Ferris State, and a 2-1-0 record all time versus Union.

 

4/5/12

 

     Ferris State vs. Union - 3:30 PM CT (Televised: ESPNU)

     Gophers vs. Boston College - 7:00 PM CT (Televised: ESPN2)

 

4/7/12

 

     FSU/Union Winner vs. Gophers/BC Winner - 6:00 PM CT (Televised: ESPN2)

 

Prediction: Ferris State will defeat Union 4-2 in the first game, as experience and maturity will pay off in the end. The Gophers will beat Boston College 3-2 in overtime in the second Semifinal, setting up a Ferris State versus Minnesota final. The Gophers will win their sixth NCAA title Saturday night, beating Ferris State 5-3 in the Championship game, with the final goal coming on an open netter.

 

 

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