NCAA West Regional Preview
by Jashvina Shah/Staff Writer
The West Regional will feature Minnesota, Robert Morris, Notre Dame and St. Cloud State. Of the four teams, Robert Morris is the only one that earned an automatic bid after winning the Atlantic Hockey Tournament.
There is a potential regional final that would match Minnesota coach Don Lucia against his son, Notre Dame forward Mario Lucia. Lucia and Notre Dame coach Jeff Jackson have also each won two national championships, which can't be said for any other potential matchup. But that will have to wait to see if each team can get past its first-round opponent.
1. Minnesota vs. 4. Robert Morris
Saturday, 4:30 p.m., ESPN 2
The Golden Gophers were one of the best regular-season teams and strung together a 14-game unbeaten streak at one point. But they have gone 6-4-1 after the streak was snapped.
Minnesota won the Big Ten regular-season title but fell in the Big Ten semifinals to Ohio State 3-1.
“Half our team has been through a situation like this where we've lost on Friday night the last two years,” Gopher Travis Boyd said after the loss. “Going back to my freshman year two years ago, we were able to rebound and end up winning the regionals. Going forward, we rely on our upperclassmen to lead the way.”
This will be the first meeting between Minnesota and Robert Morris. The Gophers and Huskies have faced off 93 times, and Minnesota holds a 53-28-12 advantage.
Minnesota coach Don Lucia’s son is a sophomore for Notre Dame, while Gopher Michael Brodzinski’s brother Jonny plays for St. Cloud State.
The Gophers have one of the nation’s top-10 offenses, averaging 3.41 goals per game. Kyle Rau’s 34 points lead the team, and the Gophers are 8-1-2 this season when he scores a goal.
Despite the numbers, Minnesota relies more on defense than offense. They have one of the best goalkeepers in the country in Adam Wilcox, who holds a .933 save percentage.
Half of Minnesota’s losses this season have been close games. Two have been one-goal losses, and Minnesota’s 3-1 loss to Ohio State included an empty net goal.
“We got to do whatever it takes,” Rau said after the loss. “Your best player gets the shot. We have to make sure we know where everyone is, mark our guys.”
Robert Morris is making its first trip to the NCAA Tournament, earned after winning the Atlantic Hockey championship. The Colonials will face the Gophers in the first round, the first meeting between the teams.
The Colonials posted a 2-12-2 record in the first half of the season but from the start of 2014 went 17-5-3. The Colonials closed out the regular season winning eight of their last 14 games, and won six of seven playoff games en route to the AHA title.
“The season was obviously not going well. But instead of packing it in, these guys got to work,” coach Derek Schooley said. “We've been playing playoff games since the end of January, really. Our backs have been against the wall and the way these guys responded, I'm just so proud of these guys."
Robert Morris averages 3.46 goals per game, sixth in the country. The Colonials have two of the nation’s top-15 scorers in Cody Wydo and Zac Lynch. The forwards have scored 52 and 45 points, respectively.
The Colonials have one of the more inexperienced goalkeepers in the tournament in Dalton Izyk. He played in five games throughout the regular season until he was forced into the starting role in the AHA playoffs. He took over midway through the final game against Army and has played in the past five contests — all wins — for Robert Morris.
"We've seen RIT and Holy Cross and Air Force all do it in the past,” Schooley said of winning an NCAA game. “We're not looking at that and saying, 'Hey, it's possible,' because we believe it's possible ourselves. We have confidence in ourselves. It's about going out and playing our game, the same way we have played for the last two, almost three months. We're not worried about anyone but ourselves. If we're ready, and we play the way we want to play, that's what we're concentrating on."
2. Notre Dame vs. 3. St. Cloud State
Saturday, 8 p.m., ESPN-U
Notre Dame will face St. Cloud State in the opening round of the West Regional. The Fighting Irish played the Huskies last year in the Midwest Regional, when St. Cloud State won 5-1.
After a subpar season early on, Notre Dame has been one of the best teams in the country of late, winning eight of its last 11 games. The Fighting Irish knocked off Boston College in three games in the Hockey East Tournament to make it to the TD Garden, where they fell to Massachusetts-Lowell.
The Fighting Irish have the nation’s fifth-best defense, allowing 2.10 goals per game. Steven Summerhays, Notre Dame’s goaltender, holds a .925 save percentage.
T.J. Tynan and Vince Hinostroza lead the Fighting Irish offense with 37 points. Bryan Rust and Mario Lucia, the son of Minnesota head coach Don Lucia, have a team-high 16 goals. Four Fighting Irish have over 30 points this season.
Against Minnesota, Notre Dame is 5-25-6. The teams split a pair of games this season. Notre Dame and Robert Morris last met in 2006-07, and each team won a game.
After making their first Frozen Four appearance last season, the Huskies won the first NCHC regular-season title. St. Cloud State won 21 games, and finished the regular season winning seven of their last nine contests.
St. Cloud State hasn’t played since it dropped two close games to Miami in the opening round of the NCHC playoffs and earned an at-large bid.
“We had time off. For us, we used it as a time to recharge our batteries. We used the term 'reboot,'” coach Bob Motzko said. “We had a very emotional run down to the end, winning our conference championship and a very emotional series with Miami. We spent a lot of emotional gas. Physically and mentally, we were beat up. The key right now for us is that we're 100 percent healthy.”
The Huskies have the third-best offense in the nation, averaging 3.67 goals per game. Nic Dowd and Jonny Brodzinski — brother of Minnesota’s Michael Brodzinski — lead the attack with 39 points. Kalle Kossila, who has 38 points, has scored at least a point in the last six games.
The Huskies and Minnesota faced off this year in the North Star College Cup, when the Gophers won 4-1. As former WCHA opponents, the two teams used to be regular foes.
St. Cloud State will have defenseman Andrew Prochno back in the lineup for the NCAA tournament.
“He's a key part of our defensive corps, to have him back,” Motzko said. “And a couple other guys who were banged up, we'll have them back. The critical thing for us is that we're 100 percent healthy. Our gas tank should be full, and we should be ready to go.”