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From freshmen to seniors, Minnesota’s a program moving in one direction

15 40 544076 From freshmen to seniors, Minnesotas a program moving in one direction

Minnesota players gather at center ice during their practice Wednesday (photo: Jim Rosvold).

PHILADELPHIA — Four years separate Minnesota senior captain Nate Condon, born in 1990, and sophomore defenseman Brady Skjei, born in 1994, but that age difference may be a cultural gap that cannot be bridged.

“I always give Brady Skjei a hard time,” said Condon. “He’s my roommate on the road and he listens to One Direction all the time and I can’t stand it.”

One Direction is a band that hails from Great Britain, the kind of pop band typically known as a “boy band.”

There are eight freshmen and six sophomores on this year’s Minnesota team, a squad that looks different from the one that took the ice at the Frozen Four in Tampa two years ago. That provides an opportunity for upperclassmen like Condon to mentor younger players.

“We might be a little bit different because we have some younger guys that come straight out of high school, so they bring a really youthful experience to us,” said Condon. “I had to play two years of juniors in order to make it to the next step for college and so I’m an older guy, but it’s fun to hang around the younger guys.”

The Golden Gophers’ rookie class has netted 56 of the team’s 137 goals, or just over 40 percent of Minnesota’s scoring this season. Condon (9-15–24) plays on a line with freshmen Taylor Cammarata (9-16–25) and Justin Kloos (15-15–30).

“Being paired with Cammarata and Kloos all season,” said Condon, “they’re really talented offensively, they’re really great players. I had to kind of show them the ropes at the beginning of the year, as far as defensive [play] and really how to be a college hockey player.

“It’s been a little bit different for me this year as I kind of had to coach up some of the younger guys and their defensive habits. It’s been rewarding to see them come into their own this season.”

Defense means as much as top-ranked offense for Boston College

PHILADELPHIA — Boston College may boast the nation’s No. 1 offense, but the Eagles know their school’s recent national championships (2008, 2010, 2012) haven’t come by outrunning and outgunning the opposition.

They’ve come from being an excellent defensive team. This year’s squad is prepared to follow suit.

From the blue line back through to the goal crease, however, they’re young. Goaltender Thatcher Demko is a freshman and five of the six defensemen are either freshmen or sophomores. So although the Eagles won it all two years ago, they’re still almost totally bereft of Frozen Four experience on the defensive side.

“The upperclassmen have done a great job of letting us know what to expect,” Demko said. “They’ve told us there’s going to be a lot of hype, but you have to make sure you play your game and don’t change anything.

“We’ve had success this year, so we can’t be trying to change stuff and expecting a different result just because it’s on a bigger stage. We have to stay focused on us and make sure we’re playing our game.”

It also makes all the difference in the world when the offensive stars buy into playing the defensive game. BC’s juggernaut top line of Johnny Gaudreau, Bill Arnold and Kevin Hayes knows that it needs to pay attention to the defensive end or all of its offensive fireworks will go for naught.

“Obviously, as a line we like to score goals,” Arnold said, “but all three of us really embrace a two-way game. Just talking about Johnny specifically, he’s super offensive. He has over 70 points. But whenever you ask him what he wants to work on, he’s always saying to improve on his defensive play. He’s really embraced that.

“As much as we like to score goals, we know if we get scored on, we have to put two in to be a positive for the team. It’s a lot easier to keep them off the board and make sure we’re helping our team by scoring goals every chance we get.”

With BC’s stars leading by example offensively and defensively, that youth on the defensive side doesn’t look quite so critical.

Gaarder embodies North Dakota’s hard-working philosophy, Hakstol says

PHILADELPHIA — Following North Dakota’s 2-1 double-overtime Midwest Regional final victory over Ferris State two weeks ago, most of the praise was heaped upon one of UND’s leading lights and also upon one of the team’s more unsung heroes.

Many have said sophomore goaltender Zane Gothberg stole that game against the favorites from Ferris State, and that isn’t at all an unfair assessment. Gothberg ended the game with a career-high 44 saves in a game in which the Bulldogs outshot UND 45-26 and looked much more threatening in front of the opposing net than their opponents had much of that night in Cincinnati.

Things fell UND’s way early in the second extra period, however, with junior forward Connor Gaarder sliding the puck through Bulldogs goaltender CJ Motte’s five-hole 88 seconds into the frame.

That goal, Gaarder’s eighth of the season, doubled his previous career high heading into this season. He’s quietly been a considerably big cog in the UND machine throughout this season, too, having surpassed previous career highs in games in a season (41), points (16) and plus-minus (plus-6).

When asked about it Wednesday at UND’s Frozen Four news conference, coach Dave Hakstol thought it was a fitting accomplishment for the hard-working junior who had initially joined UND’s program as a walk-on.

“I couldn’t think of a better guy to score a game-winning goal that gives us the opportunity to be here today,” Hakstol said.

“He kind of embodies what our team is: He shows up every single day, he’s a worker in the classroom, in and around our community and the rink, and I think if you asked the 24 teammates that he has if they could pick a guy, he would be at the top of the list because he embodies what we are as a team. And that workmanlike style paid off for him with that game-winning goal.”

North Dakota puts its last NCAA meeting with Minnesota in the past

PHILADELPHIA — The last time North Dakota met archrival Minnesota in a NCAA tournament game, things could’ve gone quite a lot better for UND than they did.

UND never led in that 2012 West Regional final in St. Paul, Minn., an eventual 5-2 win for the Golden Gophers. It was just as brutal for the game’s de facto visiting team, too, as even after Minnesota opened up a 4-1 lead 14:28 into the second period, the Gophers never let off the gas.

These two teams met last season, too, with similar results as Minnesota picked up a win and a tie on home ice against UND last January in Minneapolis. Even then, though, attention was drawn to that 2012 NCAA tournament game when players met the gathered press Wednesday ahead of UND’s national semifinal Thursday night against the Gophers.

When asked about that loss at Xcel Energy Center, two of the UND upperclassmen that were on the ice that night said they’ve moved on but haven’t forgotten what happened.

“That was a tough game, and obviously it ended our season so it wasn’t an easy one to swallow,” UND junior forward Stephane Pattyn said. “But hockey’s a kind of game where you have to forget things earlier, and I think for us we had a summer to think about it, but I think last year already we had to go into the [new] season and forget about it and try to move on.

“Obviously, we faced them last year, as well, so it’s an extra little chip on your shoulder about the team that ended your season, but it’s so far in the past now that we’re just focused on the team we have now. We have a completely different team than the team we had two years ago, and we’re just ready for tomorrow night.”

UND senior defenseman and team captain Dillon Simpson echoed Pattyn’s sentiments on the matter.

“I think, more than anything, that game kind of stung us throughout that summer and pushed us into the next season,” Simpson said. “But as far as this year goes, like Pattyn said, we’ve got a lot of new players on this team and a lot of new personnel.

“You look back at that game and, yeah, you use it as motivation as a part of the past, but I don’t think it has a whole lot of bearing on the players we have in that locker room right now. Like any game, it was a big game, and like in any rivalry, the guys will be ready to go tomorrow.”

Union’s Gostisbehere finds himself the center of the Philly attention

PHILADELPHIA — Whether it’s being welcomed to the city by a band or facing the increased media scrutiny, there are plenty of potential non-hockey distractions during the Frozen Four.

Union coach Rick Bennett frequently refers to it as the “racket,” and there’s a good chance one of his own players will have to deal with more of it than anyone else this week.

Junior defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere was a third-round pick of the Philadelphia Flyers in 2012, and like former Yale forward and Pittsburgh native Jesse Root last year, he’s an obvious story line headed into the Frozen Four.

But the no-nonsense Bennett might have summed it up best when asked about Gostisbehere and his Flyers connection during last week’s media conference.

“Shayne Gostisbehere plays for Union College; Shayne Gostisbehere doesn’t play for the Philadelphia Flyers,” Bennett said. “So it won’t be a big issue.”

Judging by his demeanor Wednesday, Gostisbehere seemed to embody his coaches’ words.

“We go out there and put our heart on the line,” he said when asked about the difference between college and professional hockey. “College hockey is a dynamic game. Guys are blocking shots that you probably wouldn’t see in pro and doing anything for their team just to raise a piece of wood at the end of the year.”

While some players regress once they’re drafted, that hasn’t been the case with Gostisbehere, who’s worked to improve his defense since coming to Union.

“I think the fact that Shayne got better through the middle of the year his freshman year in areas of his game where he really decided that this defensive thing is really going to help me here,” Bennett said. ”This is what we talked about in the recruiting trip. This is what he wanted to get better at. The offensive stuff, I’m not teaching him.”

For Gostisbehere, Thursday’s game will be the first time he’ll play a game at his potential future team’s home rink.

“I’ve never skated here until an hour ago,” Gostisbehere said. “But I did have a Geno’s cheesesteak last night, so that was pretty good. Other than that, I haven’t seen Philly too much. I came here for a tournament when I was, I think 9 years old, but I don’t remember it that much.”

Boston College knows it has to be more than just the big line

PHILADELPHIA — Boston College’s dominating first line of Johnny Gaudreau, Kevin Hayes and Bill Arnold has received the lion’s share of media attention, and deservedly so.

Since they were assembled on Dec. 6, the Eagles have gone 20-3-2 and the trio has averaged more than two goals per game and totaled 128 points (53-75–128) with a combined plus/minus rating of plus-86.

Yet when Boston Bruins coach Claude Julien spoke to the Eagles last week, his message was that teams succeed not just because of the stars in the spotlight, but also those who grind through the less appreciated tasks that are every bit as vital to winning games.

“He mentioned that their success is not what you think it is, just because of [Zdeno] Chara, [Patrice] Bergeron, [Milan] Lucic and [David] Krejci,” BC coach Jerry York said. “It’s more of the [Gregory] Campbells and [Chris] Kellys that block shots, that kill penalties, that are kind of the glue to the team.

“He challenged all of our top-end guys to really recognize the fact that you’re going to a Frozen Four because there are a lot of players contributing in different roles over the course of your season.”

For the Eagles, that list includes an unappreciated second line of senior Patrick Brown along with freshmen wingers Ryan Fitzgerald and Austin Cangelosi, who likely will become limelight players in their own right in future seasons but are already vital to this year’s success.

One need only go back to BC’s difficult 4-3 win over Massachusetts-Lowell to capture the Northeast Regional. The Eagles fell behind the River Hawks 3-2 early in the third period, but Fitzgerald responded with a highlight-reel goal just 21 seconds later to set the stage for a 4-3 win.

“[Those three] are players that are playing a critical role in our team,” York said. “They’re valued very much by our coaching staff and by our players sitting up here on the dais [Gaudreau, Arnold and goaltender Thatcher Demko].

“You can have your marquee players and you need those players to be really good. But they have to have a supporting cast that does things also. It’s not like where you start five players and they play the majority of the game. We’re using every night 18 players on a regular basis.”

Stoic Union still has its lighter moments

140409 11512105 Stoic Union still has its lighter moments

Union’s Colin Stevens takes a breather during practice Wednesday (photo: Melissa Wade).

PHILADELPHIA — With three straight ECAC Hockey tournament titles, four consecutive NCAA appearances and a national best 15-game unbeaten streak entering Thursday’s game against Boston College, it’s fair to say that Union is in a position of which most teams in the country would be envious.

That recent success has shown in the Dutchmen’s demeanor, as coach Rick Bennett and his players have been fairly stoic in most of their news conferences this postseason.

But there were some lighter moments when Union met with the media Wednesday afternoon at the Wells Fargo Center, as players ribbed Bennett’s movie choices for the bus ride down.

“Well, our movie selections on the road, some might describe them as suspect,” senior Daniel Carr said. “It depends who is picking. But I think coach chose “Road House” because I think he thinks his hair looks like Patrick Swayze.”

One of the other movies for the trip was “Rocky II,” a fitting choice given Union’s ultimate destination.

“That is just a phenomenal movie with a lot of heart,” Bennett said. “I think this team embodies that. They come to work in every practice and every game, and going to Philly has that tie as well.”

All joking about movie choices aside, Union appears to have the same serious demeanor it’s carried throughout the playoffs, an approach the Dutchmen hope leads to better results than two years ago, when they lost to Ferris State the Frozen Four semifinals.

“I think guys were a little bit awestruck with everything in Tampa,” Union captain Mat Bodie said. “I think the upperclassman have done a great job of prepping the younger guys. We’re just treating it like it’s just another hockey game. The net is the same, puck is the same, and we’ll be ready to go.”

Video: North Dakota’s Rocco Grimaldi on preparing for playing Minnesota

PHILADELPHIA — Here’s video of North Dakota forward Rocco Grimaldi talking Wednesday about how the team spent the time since the Midwest Regional and what it’ll take to beat Minnesota in the national semifinals.

Jerry York is hungry, and so is Boston College

140409 12434583 Jerry York is hungry, and so is Boston College

Boston College coach Jerry York talks with former Flyers coach Peter Laviolette at Wednesday’s practice (photo: Melissa Wade).

PHILADELPHIA — At 1:50 p.m., Boston College coach Jerry York walked into Wednesday’s Frozen Four news conference along with three of his players, all fresh from practice. When asked for his thoughts, he replied with a sentiment often heard at that time of day.

“I’m starved right now,” he said. With a smile, he added, “I haven’t had lunch yet, so we’ll be very brief today.”

As the news conference developed, however, it became clear that York’s appetite, and that of his team, is focused less on a Philly cheesesteak and far more on a fourth national championship in seven years.

“Every year is different, every year is unique, and nobody’s guaranteed this,” he said. “[In] September, we sat down with our captains and tried to outline our team and some long-term goals. Of course, at Boston College we’re looking at the Beanpot, the regular season trophy and our playoff championship, but in the back of our minds, it’s always, ‘Hey, can we get back to the Frozen Four and compete for a national championship?’”

This season marks Boston College’s 11th Frozen Four appearance in the last 17 years, a stunning achievement in this era of college hockey parity. Four times those appearances have translated into national championships: 2001, 2008, 2010 and 2012. Yet the hunger pangs for another remain just as sharp.

“We’re not just here to look at the Liberty Bell and enjoy Philadelphia,” York said. “We want to compete for that really shiny trophy that they have down the hallway.”

Frozen Fours and national championships have become BC’s measuring stick for success.

“This is our goal every year at BC,” senior Bill Arnold said. “It’s a national championship or you can’t really consider your season a success.”

Arnold earned his first championship ring two years ago and is hoping to add a second this week as his collegiate career comes to a close.

“The one thing coach always says he wants his players to do is leave BC with a ring in one hand and degree in the other,” Arnold said. “At BC, that’s what we’re all about, getting the opportunity to do that and [for me] hopefully leave with two rings.”

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