NCAA Tourney Hopes Still Alive For 20th Ranked Gopher Hockey Team

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The Minnesota Gopher Hockey team is playing its best hockey of the season at the right time.

 

A program that was once a staple of the NCAA Frozen Four, winning the National Championship in 2002 and 2003, has struggled to get back to the Mecca of college hockey.

 

The last two seasons the Gophers have watched the 16-team NCAA tournament from the comfort of their Dinkytown homes. Their last Frozen Four appearance was back in 2005.

 

While reaching this season Frozen Four is still a long shot for the 20th ranked Gophers, getting back into the field of 16– which was at one point this season a long shot– seems more than realistic.

 

Just weeks ago it looked as if the only way the 2010-11 Gophers would participate in the NCAA tournaments would be to receive the WCHA’s automatic bid. After beating Denver (2nd in the WCHA) 7-3 on February 12, and taking three points on the road at the Kohl Center against the Wisconsin Badgers last weekend, the Gophers’ tourney hopes have taken form.

 

With the last two weekends of the regular season approaching, the Gophers still have some work to do. Much like the NCAA basketball tournament, teams like the Gophers that are on the bubble need to hope that an upset doesn’t happen in one of the 5 conference tournaments.

 

The Atlantic Hockey conference will receive an automatic bit only. So after that 15 spots remain.

 

The Gophers then will need one of Michigan, Miami (OH), or Notre Dame to receive the CCHA automatic bid. Those three teams are essential locks to reach the field of 16.

 

In the ECAC, the Gophers need one of Yale or Union to receive that conference’s automatic bid. Yale sits third in the nation, while Union sits comfortably at fifth in the nation; those two teams will be in.

 

The Gophers will also need one of New Hampshire, Boston College, or Merrimack to take Hockey East’s automatic bid. As it stands today those teams sit ninth, second, and fourth respectively in the current USCHO national poll.

 

Currently the Gophers sit sixth in the WCHA, one point behind fifth place Wisconsin.

 

What the Gophers have going for them is a relatively easy last four games. They host last place Michigan Tech for two games this weekend. Followed by going on the road to ninth place Bemidji State for two to wrap up regular season play.

 

If the Gophers continue play great hockey that they have of late, they should have no problem taking at least three if not all four of their last four match-ups. Which as a result would more than likely send them ahead of Wisconsin into the fifth place in the WCHA, avoiding a potential 6th vs. 7th match-up against fellow bubble team Colorado College in the best of three portion of the WCHA conference tournament.

 

Across the nation this season has shown that nothing can be taken for granted. But if the Gophers continue to play the way they have as of late, and ride the coattails of junior goaltender Kent Patterson (11-7-5, .920 save percentage, 2.53 goals against average), they will end their two-year absence from the NCAA tournament.

And with the Frozen Four being played down the street at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul (the site of their 2002 championship), who knows, maybe they can find some of their old magic at the “X”.

 

-Brett Cloutier

 

Brett is a contributor to The Sports Bank as the beat writer for Gopher hockey and Minnesota Timberwolves basketball.

He is the co-host of The Backdoor Cut, a Minneapolis based sports and pop culture talk show. The show is also podcasted.

You can follow Brett on Twitter @brettcloutier.

Content was used from USCH0.com

 

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