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Union shows comfort in uncomfortable situations

PHILADELPHIA — Union’s practice on Friday seemed fairly benign, with the Dutchmen mostly running through several routine drills.

But according to several players, that’s usually far from the case.

“If we ever mess up, our lines are either doing pushups or over-and-backs or something,” senior Kevin Sullivan said. “[Coach Rick Bennett] always lets us know that we’re never perfect.”

That’s something that Bennett’s team has come to appreciate.

“I read a quote, I’m not sure who it was from, but it said great players learn to be comfortable in uncomfortable situations,” senior captain Mat Bodie said. “I think that’s what the coaching staff has tried to accomplish with this team. I think guys have done a good job of pushing their comfort levels and finding out how to be comfortable in those uncomfortable spots.”

That showed in Thursday’s semifinal win against Boston College, as Union lost penalty-killing forward Matt Hatch to a game misconduct early in the third period.

With Hatch gone and the Eagles on an extended five-minute power play, the Dutchmen had to turn to several players who hadn’t seen much short-handed time this season, including Sullivan.

“It gave our penalty killers a little rest there, putting me and Mike Vecchione [on the ice],” Sullivan said. “I think it just shows that our coaches are comfortable putting anybody anywhere.”

That’s been a trait the Dutchmen have possessed all season, as defenseman Matt Krug moved to forward briefly due to injuries, while winger Daniel Carr saw time at center early in the season.

“When Hatch went out, [Matt] Wilkins stepped up to the second line,” Sullivan said. “Anybody from our first or fourth line can step up. We can play any kind of game — I think that’s why we’ve been so successful because anybody can play anywhere.”

For Minnesota, descent from emotional high has to be quick

140411 13020111 For Minnesota, descent from emotional high has to be quick

Minnesota’s Justin Kloos practices his faceoffs on Friday (photo: Melissa Wade).

PHILADELPHIA — When Justin Holl’s shot from the slot beat Zane Gothberg to give Minnesota a 2-1 lead over North Dakota with 0.6 seconds left in regulation, the entire Minnesota bench reacted with predictable emotion, pouring onto the ice and piling on top of the team’s unlikely hero.

When the goal stood upon review, the Gophers celebrated again, swarming together in the corner of the ice, a moving mass of maroon and gold and emotion. And more emotion.

“I think we’re coming down a little bit now,” senior captain Nate Condon said before Minnesota’s Friday practice. “It’s great how it happened last night.

“Last night, I think it was great feeling we were all just excited in the moment, kind of just taking it in. Hopefully the next game we have doesn’t go down to the last point-six seconds like that.”

After such an emotional ending, how does a team regain its focus and prepare for a championship game?

“We’ve got to have a good practice with the guys on the ice and keep to our schedule and our regimen,” said senior defenseman Jake Parenteau. “If we stick to our game plan, we’re going to have a good showing on Saturday.”

The lateness of the game — it ended at 11:08 p.m. — complicates the Gophers’ recovery.

“Not many of us were able to get to bed until late because we didn’t get back to the hotel until 12:30,” said junior forward Kyle Rau. “But I think when you wake up this morning and realize that tomorrow you get to play for a national title, I think you better start getting your mind ready to go because, if not, you’re going to come out and lay an egg.

“I think like Jake said, we’ll try to have a good practice and get back to our normal routine right away.”

It’s a challenge for the coaching staff, too.

“It’s nice to have a day off in between,” coach Don Lucia said. “Obviously, it was a late night last night so the most important thing we have to do is to spend the day recovering. That’s where Cal [Dietz], our strength coach, comes in.

“I didn’t even crawl into bed until 3 in the morning. You’re eating your postgame meal, it’s 12:30 in the morning, you get back up to your room at 1. It takes a while to decompress, and here we are back at the rink at 11, but that’s another topic.”

Minnesota sees plenty of elements to improve entering title game

PHILADELPHIA — Before Minnesota took the ice for its Friday practice, Don Lucia was frank about what the Golden Gophers need to do in Saturday’s national title game.

“We need to play better tomorrow to beat Union than we played last night,” Lucia said.

For fans, the last-second nature of the Gophers’ win 2-1 win over North Dakota on Thursday may obscure what the Gophers themselves see plainly.

“I thought some of our young guys played tentative,” said Lucia. “It’s amazing sometimes when you’re a little bit nervous that your legs get heavy and they’re not moving the way they need to move. I thought we were fortunate in some regards last night to be moving on, but sometimes you have to find a way to win. And we found a way to win and we stuck with the game until we made a play.”

North Dakota outshot Minnesota 37-28 and the Gophers often had difficulty maintaining possession of the puck in the offensive zone. In that regard, Lucia said, North Dakota may have done Minnesota a favor.

“North Dakota’s defensemen were very offensive and very active in the play last night,” said Lucia, “so that’s going to help us I think with the mentality we’re going to have to have in the game tomorrow.”

“We have to be more solid defensively,” said senior captain Nate Condon, a forward. “When they [North Dakota] got into the offensive zone, they ran a lot of high cycles and their D really used their feet to change shooting lanes and things like that.

“It’s more of a matter that our wings had to be more active defensively. It wasn’t so much of just standing out and guarding your point; you had to be involved and be communicating with the D corps and the guys you had to switch with there in the D zone … and that was probably one thing that we picked up big early in the North Dakota game.”

The Dutchmen and the Gophers are well matched on paper. Union’s offense is second in the nation (3.73 goals per game) and Minnesota’s is sixth (3.48); the Dutchmen are fourth defensively (2.10), the Gophers second (1.98).

“We have to be a little bit sharper,” said Lucia, “and get pucks behind the D and establish more offensive zone time than we did last night because Union’s a very, very talented team.”

Video: Hellebuyck gets Mike Richter Award

PHILADELPHIA — Massachusetts-Lowell’s Connor Hellebuyck received the inaugural Mike Richter Award on Friday at the Frozen Four.

Here’s Hellebuyck with Richter, Bernie Parent and Massachusetts-Lowell coach Norm Bazin posing for the cameras.

And here are Hellebuyck’s thoughts on winning the award:

11 have a perfect College Hockey Pickem 2014 bracket after national semifinals

PHILADELPHIA — There will be a perfect bracket in College Hockey Pickem 2014.

To be more accurate, there will be either eight or three perfect brackets depending on how Saturday’s national championship game plays out.

Eleven entries out of 10,937 have correctly predicted the first 14 games of the NCAA tournament. Check out the standings here.

Eight of those 11 have Minnesota as the champion; three picked Union.

The Gophers were the most popular pick of those who completed a bracket, appearing on the champion line of 32 percent.

The Dutchmen were third-favorite at 9.8 percent.

Join us at a Hobey viewing party in Philadelphia

PHILADELPHIA — If you were hoping to check out the Hobey Baker Award presentation in person Friday night, well, you’re probably out of luck — it’s closed to the public.

But we’ll have you covered. We’ll be hosting a viewing party at Field House in connection with our USCHO Live! broadcast. The show starts at 4 p.m. EDT, and the Hobey ceremony will be on the televisions starting at 6.

 

If you’re not in the area and want to catch the broadcast, it’s scheduled to be on The Comcast Network in Philadelphia and will be streaming on NHL.com and hobeybaker.com.

We’ll have coverage in words, photo and video Friday night.

Video: Minnesota’s Skjei on win over North Dakota

PHILADELPHIA — Here’s video of Minnesota defenseman Brady Skjei talking about teammate and game-winning goal scorer Justin Holl and more after the Gophers’ 2-1 victory over North Dakota on Thursday in the Frozen Four semifinals.