Frozen Four Notebook: Minnesota
by Joe Meloni/Senior Writer
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PHILADELPHIA Minnesota seeks its sixth national championship this weekend at the Wells Fargo Center. The Gophers face long-time rival North Dakota on Thursday night (ESPN2 8:30 p.m.) for a spot in Saturday's national championship game.
Underclassmen Rising Above
While many of Minnesota's best players are juniors and seniors, the Gophers rely heavily on a number of freshmen and sophomores.
Freshman forward Hudson Fasching (13-16—29) and Justin Kloos (15-15—30) lead the offensively for the young Gophers. On the back, sophomores Brady Skjei and Mike Reilly have emerged as dominant players from the back.
Reilly, a gifted two-way blue liner, and Skjei, a true shutdown defenseman, are effective and reliable members of the Gophers top four.
Gopher captain Nate Condon believes the infusion of young talent to the lineup in the last two seasons has created a strong balance on and off the ice.
"I'm an older guy, but it's fun to hang around the younger guys," he said.
"On the ice, it's a lot of fun with those guys. Being paired with (Taylor) Cammarata and Kloos all season, they're really talented offensively. They're really great players. It's just a matter of I had to show them the ropes in the beginning of the year of how to be defensive and be a college hockey player."
Minnesota advanced to the Frozen Four in 2012, losing to Boston College, 6-1, in a national semifinal. Minnesota's current youth makes for a very different team this season, but the upperclassmen still have some experience to offset nerves of the younger players.
"I think the mentality is that we're here to win, and that's what we're trying to preach to the younget guys."
The matchup between North Dakota and Minnesota comes after the programs didn't meet in the regular season for the first time since the 1946-47 season — UND's first.
College hockey's realignment, sparked by Penn State's move to Division I, forced the clubs into separate leagues.
However, fate and some bracket adjustments from the selection committee set up this showdown.
"I didn't play at Minnesota, but grew up in the state," Gopher coach Don Lucia said. "North Dakota is the more rural school. Minnesota is their neighbor., and North Dakota is right on the border. If you go back to rivalries maybe in the 70s and 80s, when North Dakota was predominantly Canadian, Minnesota, for the most part, has been Minnesota kids. ... You've got two programs that have excelled."
Thursday marks the 248th meeting between the schools. Minnesota holds a slight edge, 137-129-15, all time.
"It's one of those games you see on the schedule, and you kind of circle it," Minnesota forward Kyle Rau said. "All games are important, but this one was the biggest one. Now we get to play them. It's awesome because that was something I was definitely going to miss."
Someone to count on
All season, new players have become heroes for Minnesota. However, the most reliable all season has been sophomore goaltender and Big Ten Player of the Year Adam Wilcox. His numbers tell part of the story. His .934 save percentage is second in the nation and No. 1 among those competing in the Frozen Four.
Beyond his numbers, Lucia credits Wilcox with helping the team weather some early-season issues.
"If you were going to make mistakes, he could cover up some of those, especially early in the year as it takes time for the young guys to learn," Lucia said.
"What Adam allowed us to do and what I think most about Adam as a goaltender is he makes the big save at a critical point of a game. If it's tied in the third, he makes a big save to keep it tied to allow us to get the game winner."