PHILADELPHIA — In Thursday’s two national semifinals, a thrilling 5-4 victory for Union over Boston College was topped by a last-second buzzer-beater by Minnesota to beat archrival North Dakota 2-1.
With the emotion that was involved for both winning teams, it’s no surprise that each was using Friday’s off day to try to relax and recoup from the high of highs.
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“I didn’t crawl into bed until 3 a.m.,” said Gophers coach Don Lucia, who is looking to capture his third national title as a coach, all with Minnesota. “You get back to your room at 1 a.m. It takes a while to decompress.”
Even though Union played the earlier game on Thursday, the emotion of beating a perennial powerhouse in Boston College requires its own amount of recovery as well.
“We had some adrenaline after the game, so I think we were up for a bit,” said Union’s Cole Ikkala, who admitted to watching the Minnesota-North Dakota game to the thrilling end. “We enjoyed [the win] for about an hour or two. Once we went to bed, we put it behind us, and it was all our focus on Minnesota.”
Now the focus turns to how each team will approach the other, and there are slight differences with the coaches.
For Minnesota, Union may be a more convenient opponent than Boston College would have been because the Dutchmen’s style resembles that of North Dakota.
Mobile defensemen who can get involved in the offense, a structured game in the neutral zone and some key forwards that can hurt you if left untouched are all parts of Union’s M.O.
“They’re an outstanding team,” Lucia said of Union. “They’re balanced with [defensemen Mat] Bodie and [Shayne] Gostisbehere.
“They’re two elite defensemen and they’re going to jump up into the play, very similar to North Dakota.”
Lucia, however, said he doesn’t think shutting down Bodie and Gostisbehere were the main keys to limiting the Union offense.
“When you have two elite defensemen who can control the back end, one of them for the most part can be on the ice all game long,” said Lucia. “I think they’re a deep team. From the goaltender right on out, they’re an elite team at every position.”
That Union team was a little closer to the vest on Friday in talking about what it needs to do in approaching Saturday’s game.
Coach Rick Bennett didn’t elaborate too much on the challenges his team will face in the top-seeded Gophers, instead re-centering the focus squarely on his club.
“In general, we have to be sharp,” said Bennett. “It’s more about us. I feel the same as it was [Thursday] night against Boston College.”
The one area Bennett revealed as a challenge is handling Minnesota’s depth. While Union had to focus on BC’s top scoring line of Johnny Gaudreau, Bill Arnold and Kevin Hayes — something the Dutchmen did effectively yet still surrendered three goals to the offensive juggernaut — the Gophers will bring forward a lineup with even more offensive depth.
Minnesota features four dangerous line combinations on a team that boasts nine players with nine or more goals.
Certainly, there’s no Johnny Gaudreau on the ice. But there are plenty of talented players that can beat you.
“It’s just a lot of depth,” Bennett said of the Gophers’ offense.
The matchup for the teams is somewhat of a rare one — the clubs have faced off only three times in the past. All three came in a tournament setting, however, all in the semifinals of Minnesota’s annual Mariucci Classic.
The seniors on both teams were a part of the most recent of the three meetings, a 3-2 overtime win for Union in the 2010-11 season. That was the same season Union made its first NCAA tournament appearance and was showing signs that one day it could be a national championship contender.
“They were on the cusp at that point in time,” Lucia said of the 2010-11 Dutchmen team. “They had some good players on that team. I think there were some guys who turned pro.”
At the time, Bennett was in his final year as an assistant under now-Providence coach Nate Leaman. He remembers being blown out a few years earlier in the same tournament 8-0 at the hands of the Gophers. And he marks that win as one that defined that team’s season. And maybe a whole lot more.
“It was a monumental win for us, because we went out there a few years previous and … it wasn’t pretty,” Bennett said. “To come back and have that win in overtime was really special. Who knows, maybe it sets the tone at that time for where [we] are today.”