The 2013 WCHA Final Five is officially underway at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, and even with the Gophers off until tomorrow's semifinal against either Colorado College or North Dakota, Thursday was a full day for most of the team.
With the rest of campus on Spring Break, the Gophers woke up early for morning practice at Xcel Energy Center after breakfast at the team hotel. The Gophers prepped for practice in an auxiliary room at the X with all of the arena's locker rooms spoken for on Thursday (Minnesota staff will move the team into a locker room following Thursday's quarterfinal action). The dressing area was completely adequate for the Gophers with some members of the team remembering a similar situation at the Hockey City Classic with the Chicago Blackhawks using Minnesota's locker room at Soldier Field.
Thursday's skate was a typical practice for the Gophers including ending the skate with a team shootout. Your winner? Junior Nick Bjugstad who started the shootout off with two-straight goals and was not challenged for the lead...even when associate head coach Mike Guentzel stepped in as Minnesota's last hope to unseat the team's leading goal scorer this season.
"It's great to have a little fun at the end of practice," Bjugstad said. "Most of our practice is spent focused on the task at hand, it's nice to have that last 10 minutes to blow off a little steam...you never know who is going to make it interesting."
For some members of the squad, playing at Xcel Energy Center is nothing new. For others, this weekend marks the first time playing at the venue. For all, it's no doubt another special occasion -- perhaps even more so with this year marking Minnesota's final campaign in the WCHA.
"This is such a great venue and a great event. You can't help but smile when you're out there on the ice," junior Jake Parenteau said. "We're looking forward to Friday night no matter who we play. Hopefully we take care of business and get the chance to close out the WCHA season on Saturday."
Thursday afternoon was a fun experience for the Gophers. With fans from around the WCHA showing up for the start of this year's tournament, most of the team stuck around downtown St. Paul to get lunch and watch as crowds grew around Xcel Energy Center (Chipotle lunch seemed to be the favorite for most of the team and staff).
Lunch was followed with a return to the hotel for some while others took in the first quarterfinal game between Wisconsin and Minnesota State (the Badgers picked up a 7-2 win in that one).
The Gophers players will not attend Thursday's second quarterfinal. Instead the team will remain at the hotel, either watching the action on TV or resting up for another full day tomorrow.