SAINT PAUL, Minn. (GopherSports.com) - The Minnesota men's hockey program kicked off the 2014 NCAA Men's Ice Hockey West Regional on Friday with practice and a media session at Xcel Energy Center.
After breakfast at Mariucci Arena early Friday morning, the Gophers moved over to Xcel Energy Center and met with ESPN talent Clay Matvick and Sean Ritchlin to preview Saturday's game against Robert Morris - the first-ever meeting between the two programs.
Minnesota then practiced for an hour at the X before meeting the media.
"It's the greatest time of the year for college hockey. The NCAA tournament's here," Gophers head coach Don Lucia said. "I'm proud of our guys, proud of our team for what they've been able to accomplish so far this year. Certainly, winning a Big Ten title this year and being part of three-straight league championships, it's a real credit to them and the process that we've gone through this year. They've played at a pretty consistently high level all season long. I know that they're excited and can't wait for the puck to drop tomorrow night."
During Friday's press conference, Lucia (as well as captains Nate Condon and Kyle Rau) touched on facing off against an opponent they have never seen in the Colonials.
"You look at what they've been able to do the second half of the season. They've won 17 games," Lucia said. "They've scored a ton of goals here in the second half of the year. They certainly had to play their way into the tournament by winning six playoff games in the league. One thing that we've seen over the years is that whoever has come out of that league has played awfully well."
Coach Lucia addressing the team after today's skate. pic.twitter.com/3fVVQ67pJk-- Gopher Hockey (@GopherHockey) March 28, 2014
In addition to playing a new team, the Gophers also have a new crop of freshmen who will get their first taste of the NCAA tournament this weekend.
"We've been trying to set an example of just working hard all week in practice," Rau said. "You get one chance, and you're done. One mistake - game over - just like last year against Yale. That's just the way it is this time of year, and we've been trying to show them that you need to work hard and not take anything for granted."
The Gophers will take on Robert Morris in the regional opener on Saturday (4:30 p.m. CT, ESPN2) while St. Cloud State and Notre Dame will play in the second regional semifinal on Saturday (8:00 p.m., ESPNU). The NCAA West Regional Championship is set for 6:30 p.m. on Sunday on ESPNU with the NCAA Men's Frozen Four slated for April 10-12 at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia.