Gophers get No. 1 seed for NCAA Tournament, face Canisius Thursday night

The University of Minnesota men’s hockey team has been the best in the country most of the season, and on Sunday they earned the No. 1 overall seed for the NCAA Tournament.

The Gophers (26-9-1) are headed to the Fargo Regional, hosted by North Dakota, which did not make the 16-team field. Minnesota is the top seed in the region and will face No. 16-seeded Canisius at 8 p.m. Thursday. The winner faces the St. Cloud State/Minnesota State-Mankato winner on Saturday for a trip to the NCAA Frozen Four.

"You go back to September and you want to be one of 16, and that is the truth. Your heart gets ripped out when you’re not one of 16, so we’re fortunate we’re one of them. We get to play this week, play close to home, play a little Minnesota flavor and we’ve also got to take on Canisius, who just won their conference championship," Gophers coach Bob Motzko said Sunday night. "One thing that’s proven over recent history, the last decade or so, one and four seeds don’t matter. Two and three don’t matter, it’s how you’re playing. So we’ve got to make sure we’re playing our best."

All three Minnesota teams in the NCAA Tournament field are in the Fargo Regional. That means only one team from the state will get to the Frozen Four. Motzko and the Gophers are focused solely on Canisius.

"I’ve never heard a coach come out ‘Boy I love my bracket, it’s an easy bracket.’ Let’s get ready for Canisius," Motzko said.

The Gophers got the No. 1 overall seed after winning the Big Ten regular season title for the second straight year, but falling to Michigan 4-3 in the Big Ten Tournament title game Saturday night. The Gophers are looking to make their 23rd trip to the Frozen Four.

Last year, they beat UMass on their home ice sheet and then Western Michigan before losing to Mankato in the national semifinals. Motzko was asked Sunday if there’s any issue with playing Thursday night, when their typical regular season series are Friday and Saturday.

"None, zero. We don’t want to practice, we want to play games. The only problem I saw is 8 o’clock. I’d rather play at eight in the morning," Motzko said. "We have a group that needs to get in some game time right now. I’m glad it’s Thursday, they don’t want to hear my whistle anymore."

The Gophers did not play Canisius this season. They split a series with Mankato in October, with a 4-1 win and 3-2 loss. They also split with the Huskies in a 3-0 loss and a 2-1 win in overtime.