The More Things Change ...
Minnesota Earns FF Bid, Where It Will Face Old Rival North Dakota
by Phil Ervin/CHN Reporter
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ST. PAUL, Minn. College hockey as we knew it is now a regular season, conference tournament slate and NCAA tourney regional round gone.
But some things never change.
Certainly not the bad blood between old WCHA rivals split by conference realignment. Fans needing a reminder need only watch a replay of the final 9 minutes of Minnesota's NCAA West Regional win against St. Cloud State.
And thanks to freshman Justin Kloos and a complete shutdown of their in-state rival, the Golden Gophers are back where they claim to constantly belong.
In the Frozen Four. Against, no less, North Dakota. If the Huskies are an old rival, then the program that used to go by the name of a Native American tribe is an archenemy.
Some things never change.
"I was talking with the guys about how we're going through the WCHA again," smiled captain Nathan Condon after his team's 4-0 regional final victory over St. Cloud State.
In vanquishing its old in-state rival from north of the Twin Cities, Minnesota (27-6-6) reached its 21st national semifinals — tied for third-most nationally with Boston University. Mobbing victorious goalie Adam Wilcox before donning black-and-white commemorative caps was especially gratifying for a group that fell to Yale in overtime to open last year's tourney.
That even goes for the seven freshmen that suited up in gold jerseys with maroon numerals Sunday night, most of whom grew up watching many a fevered battle between the Gophers and Sioux.
"There's no guarantee that I was ever gonna get a chance to play them in my four years," said Kloos, who scored Minnesota's first and third goals. "We're all super excited. I think it's good, just to keep that rivalry going.
"We grow up as kids wanting to play in these games."
Said coach Don Lucia, sporting his 2003 national championship ring: "Going to the Frozen Four never gets old."
It was 11 years ago that Lucia last led this storied program to ultimate glory. Minnesota reached the Frozen Four as recently as 2012 but surrendered a 6-1 shellacking to Boston College in its opening matchup.
If there's an efficiency carryover from Sunday, such a premature exit can be avoided.
The tournament's top overall seed improved to 17-0-5 when it scores the first goal this season. Kloos carried a rebound around the Huskies net and shoved it past goalie Ryan Faragher, who yielded three goals on 15 shots and was lifted for Charlie Lindgren with 5:20 left in the second period.
It was later revealed Faragher had been nursing an illness since Thursday. He backstopped inaugural NCHC regular season champion St. Cloud State (22-11-5) to a 4-3 overtime win Saturday against Notre Dame.
Kloos and Seth Ambroz scored in the second period, and Kyle Rau added further insurance in a third frame that allowed Wilcox to pad his national-second-best save percentage.
With Division I's No. 3 defense in front of him, the Richter Award finalist and Big Ten Player of the Year stopped 24 shots for his third shutout this season.
"I'm no goalie expert, but sometimes they look locked and loaded," Lucia said. "That's how he looked tonight."
Once Rau slammed a rebound past Lindgren at the third's 8:16 mark, the familiar foes began exchanging shoves. Minnesota defenseman Brady Skjei and St. Cloud State winger David Morley were sent off for roughing and high-sticking, respectively, with 7:49 remaining.
By then, the partisan Gopher crowd of 8,893-person had the joint in downtown St. Paul shaking with anticipation of another Frozen Four appearance, this one in Philadelphia.
"Having a game against North Dakota on a big stage like that," said Wilcox, a sophomore, "I think that's what both teams wanted."
With Penn State's addition of hockey and the creation of the Big Ten conference in 2011, alliances around the upper Midwest shifted. St. Cloud State and North Dakota bolted for the newly-formed NCHC, while the Gophers got used to hanging Big Ten championship banners — they claimed the league's first regular-season crown — rather than WCHA ones this year.
But this time around, there's the most significant prize up for grabs this since the two programs clashed in the 2005 semifinals. North Dakota won 4-2 in a Frozen Four featuring all WCHA teams.
"I almost had a kind of inkling: once North Dakota won, well, I guess we have to win now," said Lucia, who oversaw a 7-3 opening-round win Saturday against Robert Morris. "You can't go a year without playing."
From late Sunday night until faceoff in Philly, the locals in Dinkytown and Grand Forks will talk about the rivalry. They'll talk about the "old" days, when Minnesota and North Dakota meant at least twice a year. National media will jump in on the conversation, discussing the Gophers' youth and the fact Midwest Regional No. 4 seed North Dakota — which knocked off Wisconsin and Ferris State to advance — needed just about everything to go right on championship championship weekend just to sneak into the 16-team NCAA field.
Those same fresh faces in the Minnesota dressing room, meanwhile, will get indoctrinated on all things UND-hate. With expletive-filled chants involving the school's outlawed mascot echoing around the Xcel's lower level Sunday, they already were.
"I heard that's a huge rival," said freshman defenseman Michael Brodzinski, who improved to 2-0 in games against his brother, St. Cloud State right wing Jonny Brodzinski. "I can't wait to play that game."
Some things never change.