Young Minnesota team ready for task at hand

This is the third of four stories previewing each team in the 2014 Frozen Four.
(populous.com)

(populous.com)

Watching the way the University of Minnesota plays, sometimes it’s hard to believe the team has eight freshmen on the roster.

On any given night, the forward corps will have six of those freshmen playing and sometimes it leads to some problems for the school.

“We can go through stretches where it is a struggle to score goals,” said head coach Don Lucia. “Especially when you have six freshman forwards playing most nights.”

But don’t let that fool you because Minnesota has been a top-ranked school for majority of the season.

And now, they are heading into the Frozen Four tournament to play former-WCHA rival, the University of North Dakota.

“We’re certainly excited to be moving on to Philadelphia,” Lucia said. “I don’t care how many times you go to a Frozen Four – it’s always new and exciting. I have to give our captains a lot of credit for leading our team this past week. This is the time of year where you have to have your leadership step forward and they were able to do that and guide a young group of kids throughout the season.”

Because of the young age of the team – eight freshmen and six sophomores – many don’t have the Frozen Four experience, but it’s not a concern to senior forward Nate Condon, who has been there before.

“I don’t think it will be too big of a problem right now getting guys motivated,” he said. “Playing North Dakota is one of our favorite games, especially for the upperclassmen. Just having the Frozen Four setting is going to help the guys even more with getting motivated. When it comes down to it, the guys are ready to go.”

This time around, instead of looking up to others, it’s now Condon’s turn to lead the younger players into the tournament.

“Last time, being a sophomore, [there] was a lot of older guys – a lot of guys I could really look up to,” he said. “This time, it’s a little bit different for me around because I’m in a lot of those leadership roles and kind of expected to produce and really bring my ‘A’ game every night. [It’s] also a lot more fun working with the younger guys and really seeing them grow this year.”

With an almost two-week break from the regionals and the Frozen Four, the coaching staff is trying to bring an even balance of relaxation and practice to his players.

“We had some more discussions about how we want to lay out our practices,” Lucia said. “You can’t practice every day – it’s going to get too boring. It’s [about] keeping them sharp and keeping them fresh. We’re going to have to mix in practice days with some days off. The most important practice days will probably be more into Friday, Saturday, Monday and Tuesday. After Tuesday, your work is pretty well completed at that point in time.

“We had some off weeks during the year, so we’ve been through it before. It’s finding that right amount of practice, length of practice and days off so they’re fresh. You’ve got to be mentally and physically fresh this time of year as much as anything because we do have a long season.”

This year’s tournament features many familiar faces in Boston College, Minnesota and North Dakota, but such an occurrence is becoming less common.

Taking last season as an example, the semifinals featured Yale University (the eventual winner), Quinnipiac University, St. Cloud State University and the University of Massachusetts Lowell.

“College hockey has changed so much in the last 10 years,” Condon said. “There are so many more good teams and so many more good programs than there used to be. I think the coaching is outstanding and the depth of the players. Maybe some of the so-called ‘elite programs’ are losing more kids earlier has helped the parity a little bit.”

But the most important part of it all is that each of the four teams in the tournament have battled hard to make it this far.

“All four teams have earned the right to be there,” Condon said. “I think it will be two outstanding games in the semifinals and whoever wins this next week is going to have to earn it, that’s for sure.”

Regardless of what next week holds for Minnesota, the coaches will make sure it’s a moment every single player on the team will remember.

“I don’t care how many times you go, it’s an amazing experience,” Lucia said. “We have some kids who were there a couple years ago, but for our freshmen and sophomores, it will be a whole new experience. We want them to enjoy this. We’re going to everything we can to get them as ready physically and mentally as we can for next Thursday.”

NOTES

Head Coach: Don Lucia

Overall Record: 28-6-6

Streak: Win 2

Goals For / Goals Against: 137 / 78

Power Play: 20.2 percent

Penalty Kill: 83.1 percent

Top Forward: Kyle Rau (Junior) – 37 points (14G, 23A)

Top Defenseman: Mike Reilly (Sophomore) – 32 points (9G, 23A)

No. 1 Goaltender: Adam Wilcox (Sophomore) – 25-5-6, 1.89 GAA, .935 SV%, 4 SO

NHL Draft Picks: Seth Ambroz (F – Columbus Blue Jackets), Jake Bischoff (D – New York Islanders), Travis Boyd (F – Washington Capitals), Michael Brodzinski (D – San Jose Sharks), Taylor Cammarata (F – New York Islanders), Nate Condon (F – Colorado Avalanche), Hudson Fasching (F – Los Angeles Kings), Justin Holl (D – Chicago Blackhawks), Christian Isackson (F – Buffalo Sabres), Ben Marshall (D – Detroit Red Wings), Kyle Rau (F – Florida Panthers), Mike Reilly (D – Columbus Blue Jackets), Brady Skjei (D – New York Rangers), Adam Wilcox (G – Tampa Bay Lightning)

Frozen Four Appearances: 21

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Categories: College Sports, Frozen Four, Ice Hockey, Sports

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