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College Hockey:
2003 Championship Game Preview

— A look at the teams that will compete for the 2003 national championship at 7 p.m. EDT Saturday at HSBC Arena:

Minnesota Golden Gophers

Record: 27-8-9

How they got here:

West Regional semifinal — Minnesota 9, Mercyhurst 2
West Regional final — Minnesota 7, Ferris State 4
National semifinal — Minnesota 3, Michigan 2, OT

Why they’ll win: Even when the Gophers weren’t at their best, they still were able to pull out an overtime victory in the semifinals. It’s that kind of drive that made them a champion last season, and it’s what will give them the opportunity to be the first team to repeat in 31 years.

Why they’ll lose: If the Wildcats watched Michigan put the clamps on the Gophers’ forwards for the first 20 minutes Thursday night, New Hampshire has seen what it has to do to stop Minnesota — don’t give the Gophers any room to create plays. If the Gophers get frustrated and don’t have an opportunity to break out, the repeat bid will go awry.

Quotable:

“It would be great to repeat. It would mean a lot to the program. To leave our mark on the program like we did last year, it’s a great ability for the program.” — senior defenseman Matt DeMarchi.

“There’s no question it’s harder to repeat, especially going through it like we have. With the playoffs, it just seems like it’s been a war every night.” — junior forward Troy Riddle.

“This team wants to win for this team. It’s not so much about back to back, repeating. It’s one game for a national title. There’s two boxes of shirts and hats out there — one with UNH and one with Minnesota. Somebody’s going to break them out, the other one’s getting shredded.” — coach Don Lucia.

“If we weren’t playing the game, I’d probably be rooting for New Hampshire, to be quite honest. Because I think Dick Umile’s a class act, certainly a coach that deserves to win one. He’s been an outstanding coach for many, many years and he’s everything that’s good about college hockey and college sports. But not yet. Wait another year.” — Lucia, with a grin at the end.

New Hampshire Wildcats

Record: 28-7-6

How they got here:

Northeast Regional semifinal — UNH 5, St. Cloud 2
Northeast Regional final — UNH 3, Boston University 0
National semifinal — UNH 3, Cornell 2

Why they’ll win: Three reasons: First, the Wildcats have the better team defense, ranking first in Hockey East in that category. Second, they have a far better goaltender in Mike Ayers, Hockey East co-Player of the Year. Third, they have much more overall experience with six seniors and eight juniors comprising the core performers at each position.

Why they’ll lose: Lanny Gare’s absence could tilt the offensive advantage to Minnesota. The Wildcats may have handled the loss of their top scorer in the last two games, but “Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad” won’t be a pleasant tune on the lips of the Wildcat faithful. Second, UNH Nation often takes a cynical Red Soxian view — if it’s a big game, something is bound to go wrong. There’s a Buckner in the lineup if they keep looking long enough.

Quotable:

“I don’t think that just being here is going to be it. The guys know what we’re here for.” — junior goaltender Mike Ayers.

“At least the seats are blue.” — coach Dick Umile.

“I just want to go out with a bang. I’ve had a great four years at UNH. I’ve developed as a person and developed as a player. The team here is one of the best teams that I’ve ever played for — probably the best I’ve ever played for. I just want to go out with a national championship. I’ve done it at the junior level. I’d like to do it at the collegiate level.” — senior forward Colin Hemingway.

“Guys have to respond when they’re given the opportunity to play, maybe on a different line that they’re usually not playing on. It all comes down to responding and getting the job done and I think we’ve done that this far.” — Hemingway on Gare’s absence.

“I remember from October their forwards and their offensive skills. Obviously they have a lot of that. Defensively as a team we’re going to have to play a strong game just like every other game we’ve played this year. With our team and the way we’re committed to defense, I think we’ll be fine.” — Ayers.

“I wasn’t rooting against it.” — Umile on the possibility of a long Minnesota-Michigan overtime.

“[Ayers] got through a very, very important game for himself yesterday. He answered the question [of his performance in last year's semifinal] that was brought up a thousand times. That’s over and done with. He won yesterday. He personally kept us in there and helped us win that game. So he won that battle. Now I believe he’s going to put on his best performance.” — Umile.


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