Minnesota begins their postseason odyssey this week with a trip to the Big Ten Men's Ice Hockey Tournament. The Gophers enter as the Tournament's top seed after claiming the regular-season crown and will play their first game in Friday night's semifinal at the Xcel Energy Center. Head coach Don Lucia and select players met with the media Wednesday afternoon to discuss the beginning of postseason play.
The Gophers are viewing the Big Ten Tournament as a chance to build towards a successful postseason run. "We are excited about the regular season we had, but that chapter is over. Now, we open up a new chapter this weekend," Lucia said.
Minnesota will skate at the Xcel Energy Center the next two weekends in the Big Ten Tournament and then in the NCAA West Regional. Coach Lucia is confident the team will not be looking ahead to the NCAA Tournament. "We are trying to win a championship this weekend, so there is a lot at stake."
There is no secret that last season did not end how the team envisioned after a very successful regular-season campaign. "We were dissatisfied. It has been a year of bitter taste. We finally get another shot at it," goalie Adam Wilcox said.
Minnesota's regular-season success was rewarded this past week by the conference's coaches and media. Adam Wilcox led the charge by being named the Big Ten Player of the Year and Big Ten Goaltender of the Year. "He has been our best player," Lucia said.
The Hobey Baker Award nominee was quick to give credit to his teammates. "I could not have done it without the team," Wilcox said. "It is a great individual award to have, but at the same time it is a team award."
Adam Wilcox's teammate and roommate Mike Reilly was named the Big Ten Defenseman of they Year. "(He) made great strides with his play during the course of the year. I think he deserved to be picked as the best defenseman," Lucia said.
Mike Reilly said strides away from the rink translated to his success on it. "It was a big summer for getting stronger with Cal Dietz in the weight room."
Coach Lucia was also named the Big Ten Coach of the Year. "I have been honored because we have so many good players," Lucia said. "I am fortunate that I have a great staff to work with."
This week at the Xcel Center, the Gophers will be on an NHL-sized rink for the third-straight week. "I think we are out of the Olympic-rink mindset now," Wilcox said. "It is nice to have a couple of away games to build that road-game mentality we will need in the playoffs." Minnesota will see NHL-sized rinks the rest of the season.
Minnesota will play their first game of the tournament Friday night at 7 p.m. CT. A win on Friday means a finals appearance Saturday night. The title tilt will begin at 7 p.m. CT. All five games of the Big Ten Tournament will air live on BTN.
-Story by Josh Brennock