College Hockey:
Balanced Minnesota enters Frozen Four on heels of perhaps its best game of the season

Minnesota’s Nate Condon (left) had two goals in the NCAA first round and two assists in the regional final (photo: Jim Rosvold).

Sophomore goaltender Adam Wilcox said that last Saturday’s 4-0 victory over St. Cloud State was Minnesota’s best game of the season.

That’s pretty impressive considering that the Gophers racked up 25 wins during the regular season.

2014 Frozen Four

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Minnesota’s offense was potent during the NCAA West Regional; the Gophers outscored Robert Morris and St. Cloud State by a combined score of 11-3.

As it’s been all season, many different skaters found their way onto the score sheet for Minnesota.

“We’re a team; we haven’t relied on any one guy,” Gophers coach Don Lucia said after the victory against St. Cloud State. “Our top goal scorers are in the teens. We don’t have 20-goal guys.

“We’re effective how we played this weekend,” Lucia added. “Good goaltending. We don’t take a lot of penalties to put ourselves in bad situations. And when we get all of our lines contributing like they did this weekend and our defensemen chipping in a few goals, that’s when we’re at our best.”

Minnesota’s offense is not only not coming from only one player, it’s not coming from only one type of player, either.

In the two games last weekend, Minnesota got a coast-to-coast goal from speedy senior captain Nate Condon; two goals that came from near the blue paint from junior captain Kyle Rau; and two goals from freshman Justin Kloos, to name a few.

Lucia highlighted Condon’s weekend, which featured two goals on Saturday and two assists on Sunday, as one of the Gophers’ brightest spots.

“I sat down with him earlier in the week and just reemphasized the importance of him playing well for us to have success,” Lucia said of Condon. “The way Nate played this weekend elevated our team. His leadership elevated our team. His contributions elevated our team.”

Condon is one of only five seniors on Minnesota’s roster, and after the well-documented departures in his graduating class from last year’s team Lucia said Condon’s importance to this year’s squad was huge.

“He’s been tremendous all year,” Lucia said. “For the most part he’s had to play with two freshmen and I think he probably wanted to play more center this year, but in typical fashion he sacrificed for our team.”

With the early departures of Nick Bjugstad, Nate Schmidt, Erik Haula, Zach Budish and Mark Alt from last year’s squad, playing next to freshmen is something that the majority of Minnesota’s upperclassmen have been doing all season.

“We knew going in with the departures that we had that we were going to have to bring in a number of [freshmen] and they were going to have to play important roles for us,” Lucia said. “We put them in those roles right from the get-go in hopes that it would prepare them for this week, when you get to the end of the year.”

Minnesota freshman Justin Kloos added two goals last Sunday to bring his season total to 15 (photo: Jim Rosvold).

Minnesota had six true freshmen and one redshirt freshman dressed last Sunday night; freshman Jake Bischoff was a scratch.

“Most of our young guys come directly out of high school. We don’t have a bunch of 20- or 21-year-old freshmen,” Lucia said. “Those guys have done a nice job and the older guys have done a nice job of embracing the roles that they have, because some of them come in and play pretty elevated in our lineup.”

Kloos’ two goals on Sunday were no fluke; he has 15 goals and 15 assists in his first college season. Fellow freshmen Hudson Fasching and Taylor Cammarata are right on his heels with 29 and 25 points, respectively.

“You can ask all seven of us: We are blessed with a group in front of us with upperclassmen that are great leaders,” Kloos said after Sunday’s game. “Coach already mentioned today how well our captains were able to lead us, and I think that we have been able to feed off of them all year and we are just happy that we have been able to step in and help the team win.”

At the beginning of the season, Lucia said that he knew making the NCAA tournament was not a lock because of the team’s youth. Heading into the Frozen Four, Minnesota’s balanced attack, with goal-scorers spread across its lines and ranging in age from freshman to senior, looks to be its strongest asset.

“They’ve performed, for the most part, all season long,” Lucia said. “[Last] weekend I think they learned the way you have to play.”

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  • Daniel

    “Most of our young guys come directly out of high school. We don’t have a bunch of 20- or 21-year-old freshmen,” Lucia said.

    This is why I respect Minnesota so much, because like BC this is the brand of hockey they play. Come to our school, give us at least a three year commitment (there will be a few one and dones along the way) but generally these kids are 18-19 entering college. I’m interested in seeing how Minnesota plays outside of the state of Minnesota, although UND are not road warriors. Both Union and BC have played consistently as well on the road as they have at home. Should be a great weekend next week.

    • GoGophs

      Should be a great weekend indeed. BC’s current-era dominance will be tested by a very strong Union team, which I admittedly know very little about. But Union has definitely earned their place and have shown they can beat anybody, including even BC. (Will the even-year championship saga continue for BC?? I am obviously a Gopher fan and have less knowledge of Hockey East. But BC playing in 5 title games in 8 years is incredible. And watching that 2012 team steamroll everybody from January to April… that was impressive…) As for the other side, I am excited to see the old UND/MN rivalry. For all of the bitterness and trash-talking I’m sure will ensue in the next week, I for one will refrain. (Sometimes my emotions have gotten the better of me, and I am sorry for that.) A program with 7 titles, and has an absolute uncanny ability to perform when it counts in March and April… UND will bring it. I love watching Rocco Grimaldi play the game, not sure if there is a quicker player in the game. (Amazing guy off the ice, too, wow.) Hopefully its a clean, but still intense, game. Here’s to an exciting finish of another great season of a wonderful sport!

      • stod_2

        Yeah, I hope it is a good game as well. I fear that with the speed that MN brings that UND will have to muck it up a bit to slow things down. Maybe not and I hope UND finds a way to get a couple of wins but this is one of the best MN teams that I have seen in a long, long time. Seems like in the last 10+ years that MN has either had an elite goalie and less offensively or great up front and the D corp was lacking. Just no weaknesses in this team, top to bottom has to be one of the best MN teams of the last 20+ years which is saying a lot.

        I really wish that Union had found a way to be the #1 overall seed and that it was UND and Union – not that I think UND would walk over Union (they are a strong team as well) just would have preferred the track meet that will ensue if BC and MN play to be the game before UND had to play MN.

        Should make for a great trio of games regardless of who wins really.

        • GoGophs

          I was thinking the same exact thing about the chance at a MN/UND title game!.. in the first year of them not playing in the regular season.. Would’ve been epic! (Oh, and i agree, absolutely NO disrespect to Union or BC in that dream..)

          Solid respect for your post and humble compliments to the MN team. Speed, talent, goal-tending… MN has been blessed to have some things line up for them this year. Has made for a fun season. However… I love an underdog, and I give so much credit to UND for once again finding a way to win when it counts. Very clutch performances, yet again! I love playoffs because its all on the table. And more than not, this is where grit and gut-checks usually wins over a team’s # of draft picks and talent. (Yale showed MN that last year!) I’m NOT exclusively labeling MN or UND as either one of these teams… but we shall see who wants it more! Its playoffs, and its a rich rivalry. I know the head-to-head records are very close, but here is the scoreboard that I see: Michigan (9), UND (7), Denver (7), Wisconsin (6), BC (5), BU (5) MN (5) !! #perspective :)

  • Geoffrey Chiles

    Michigan’s roster has always been the same way. You have your players who will play for a year in the USNTDP-U18 or the USHL/BCHL, but for the most part, all 19-year-old freshmen. Now, if only we can get back to the Tournament…so frustrating!

    • GoGophs

      I’m sure it is frustrating… especially with the long-shot circumstances that kept Michigan out this year. But a program with 22 consecutive tourney appearances and 9 championships demands respect.

      • kooshnitz

        What program has 22 Consecutive tourney appearances?

        • stod_2

          MI had 22 consecutive tourney appearances before last year I believe.

          • kooshnitz

            Thats right thanks!

          • Geoffrey Chiles

            Record are made to be broken, but I hope it never is. The Sioux are the closest right now, but it’s going to take them many years to even get close to 22. I think it’s going to be tough for any school to catch, especially in this era, where coaches and players come and go. Not as much stability in college hockey as there once was.

      • Geoffrey Chiles

        I appreciate it. We love Berenson, but are frustrated that he’s only won two titles in his career. We’ve definitely had teams that underachieved, teams that should’ve won titles. 2003, 2008, and 2011 come immediately to mind.

        I appreciate the compliments. Looking forward to many great games with the Gophers in the Big Ten. That’s a rivalry that should’ve never faded like it did.

        Go Blue!

        • siouxpthr

          2011 was our year :( your goalie just played what was probably one of the best games of his career against us that year

  • http://twitter.com/dirtysconsin #1 Wisco SportsFan

    Oh goofs. A bit annoying that I must root for you, but the UND fans are just that lame… Go gophs.

    • PD@7

      I can’t read 1 post without seeing your ugly picture and ill-thought name. We don’t want you to root for us. For the sake of college hockey, please root for UND.

      • Brian

        All are welcome to root for the Gophers, even cheeseheads. Thanks, Wisco.

    • Ed

      Gophs fans are doing the same for WIsco hoops this weekend.

      • http://twitter.com/dirtysconsin #1 Wisco SportsFan

        much appreciated! B1G unite!!

      • GoGophs

        Hey did anyone see that the Gophers won the NIT?? Again?! Woo-hoo, they are the 69th-best basketball team in the country lol!! Would be cool to see Badgers take it all. (Even though basketball is a far inferior sport to hockey, I guess it is pretty entertaining and still has much more national pull.)

  • patrickolson

    Did I really just read this article and it was all about the scoring? Are they saving the Defense article for next week or something?

  • Mike Peterson

    We need to use our speed and have make good passes in transition. Take good shots and play solid defense in front of Adam, we should be in position to raise two banners next season.

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