Gopher hockey 'in a good spot' facing Notre Dame

The University of Minnesota men’s hockey team isn’t hiding from it. They’re feeling pretty good about themselves heading into a Big Ten semifinal game at Notre Dame Saturday night.

As they should. The Gophers have won five straight games, their longest win streak of the season, and six of seven as they head to South Bend to face the Irish in an elimination game. The winner advances to face the Ohio State/Penn State winner for a trip to the NCAA Tournament. Anything less than a Big Ten title ends the Gophers season.

Their focus is on getting win No. 19 on the season, which would put them in the Big Ten championship game.

“I’m not going to hide the fact that we’ve got a pretty good feel about us. I also like that I don’t think they’ve taken it one ounce further than they want to get to win No. 19,” Gophers coach Bob Motzko said. “We’re in a good spot, and it’s a good place to be this time of year.”

Minnesota can also take confidence into Notre Dame Saturday. The Gophers have beaten the Irish in three out of four games this season. The only loss came at 3M at Mariucci Arena, 3-2, on Feb. 22.

But the playoffs are a different animal, especially in a win or go home scenario. There’s an extra level of confidence around the team after the Gophers swept Michigan in a first-round series last weekend to end the Wolverines’ season.

The Gophers trailed Michigan 2-0 last Friday in the first game of the series before senior Tyler Sheehy scored to give them a boost. Minnesota went onto win 3-2 in overtime, then scored the first three goals Saturday night to get the sweep.

“I think there’s a buzz in the air right now with us. It’s fun to be around and everyone’s happy to be around the rink with each other,” sophomore forward Brannon McManus said. “It’s really fun.”

There might not be anyone more confident than junior goalie Mat Robson. He played both games in the sweep of Michigan, making 54 saves on 57 shots on goal.

Robson improved to 14-11-4 on the season and leads the Big Ten with 915 total saves. He’s third in the Big Ten in save percentage (.920) and wins. He’s allowed two goals or less in 14 of his 30 starts, including his last four games. He’s allowed just one goal in seven games this season, including three of the four games against the Irish.

He’s as confident as anyone that Minnesota can beat Notre Dame Saturday night. After all, the Gophers swept the Irish in South Bend back in January by a combined score of 7-2.

“We know what we have in our locker room. We’ve been saying it all year, we’re a very talented team and I think other teams are scared to play us on a nightly basis. If we play our A game, we can play and beat anyone in the country,” Robson said.

Gopher women ready for Princeton Saturday

The Gophers women’s hockey team is a hungry group after losing to Wisconsin in the championship game of the WCHA Final Faceoff last weekend.

Minnesota (30-5-1) has the No. 2 seed for the NCAA quarterfinals as they host Princeton (20-7-5) Saturday afternoon at Ridder Arena. The Gophers are in their 12th straight NCAA Tournament and 17th overall.

The Gophers last faced the Tigers in 2016, winning 6-2 on the way to their seventh national title. That was also the last time Minnesota hosted an NCAA quarterfinal. They’re 10-3 all-time in quarterfinal games, having lost just once on home ice.

“We’re finally into that part of the season where it’s one and done. Everything’s on the line, everybody knows it so you have to come with your best,” Gophers coach Brad Frost said.

The Tigers also have some local talent with three Minnesota natives on the roster. They are Edina native and junior Sylvie Wallin, and Eden Prairie natives Carly Bullock and Karlie Lund.

Gophers senior forward Kelly Panek, who has 28 points in 34 games this season, is in the last class of Minnesota players to have won a national title. It’s a new thrill for them to be playing in an elimination situation.

“It’s a new season now and everyone is playing to extend their season. Everyone’s in a make or break situation, you have to win to continue and it’s going to be great,” Pannek said.

Most importantly, the Gophers are playing an NCAA Tournament game on their home ice. It was a goal from the first practice this season.

The Gophers are 16-4 at Ridder Arena this season.

“It’s big for us, we have the best fans in the country, the best atmosphere. To have them behind us during this game is going to be big,” sophomore defender Emily Brown said.

Saturday’s winner advances to play the Northeastern/Cornell winner on March 22 in the Frozen Four.