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Gophers prepping for fans' derision and Griffins' collision as Fargo regional opener approaches

Making just their second-ever NCAA playoff appearance, the Canisius Golden Griffins face top-ranked Minnesota with an attitude and a game designed to give their well-rested opponent fits.

Trevor_Large action vs RIT 1-4-20.jpg
Trevor Large is in his sixth season as the head coach at Canisius and guided the Griffins to 15 second half wins in the 2022-23 season, earning the second NCAA tournament appearance in program history.
Tom Wolf / Canisius Athletics

FARGO – Don’t you dare feel any sympathy for Trevor Large and his Canisius squad heading into their NCAA matchup with top-ranked Minnesota on Thursday at Scheels Arena.

Sure, the Golden Griffins had to fly halfway around the country to face a loaded Gophers team that has been atop the national polls (and the all-important PairWise rankings) much of the season. Still, as Large prepared to coach in his first NCAA tournament game, he and his players sounded like men who relished the chance to play giant-killer.

Asked how they planned to compete against a powerful Minnesota team, Griffins goalie Jacob Barczewski had a frank response.

“We’re coming here not just to compete, we’re coming here to win,” said Barczewski, who has started 31 games this season, posting a .925 saves percentage and a 2.43 goals-against average.

All Large has to do is look back at other teams from his conference, Atlantic Hockey, that have knocked off the NCAA’s top-seeded team (Air Force in 2018, AIC in 2019) or made a surprise run to the Frozen Four (RIT in 2010) and he feels less like an underdog.


“I honestly struggle with the upset category, and I have to tip a cap to our conference. How many times is an Atlantic Hockey team going to have that upset at the beginning?” Large asked, rhetorically. “We know we’re going to play a No. 1 seed but you don’t have to look back too far to see when those things have happened. Our goal is going to be that next team that wears that Atlantic Hockey flag.”

That flag won’t need to be waved too highly on Thursday for the Griffs to hear cheers, their opponents predict. Even though scores of Minnesota fans will be in the building, Gophers coach Bob Motzko was quick to remind the media that neighborhood rival North Dakota is the regional host, meaning a good amount of their fans in attendance. And among programs in the State of Hockey, the Gophers are never the underdog, especially among fans of the Mavericks and Huskies, who will also be there in big numbers.

“One big difference from Loveland and Worcester – we’re the most hated team here,” Bob Motzko said, referencing the rinks where Minnesota played in the 2021 and 2022 regionals. “Let’s just get right to it. If any of the green fans show up, you know who they’re against, and the two other Minnesota teams. There’s a big difference this week. We’re the most hated team in the state.”

Minnesota head coach Bob Motzko talks during the Fargo regional media day on March 22, 2023 at Scheels Arena in Fargo.
Rob Beer / The Rink Live

Canisius had five wins at the holiday break and was sitting in eighth place in their 10-team conference, before a 15-7-1 run in the second half wins got them into the top four in Atlantic Hockey, and a pair of playoff series wins got them to the conference title game, where they blanked Holy Cross 3-0 to get to the NCAAs.

Large said that game illustrates two things the Griffins do exceedingly well: stop pucks, and protect leads.

“When we get up on a team, our guys will close you out. That’s a big recipe for success for anybody,” Large said. “They’re very attentive, they like details, they know the things we control and our guys get after it. It’s been a fun group to coach.”

The duo coached together at Hamline for six seasons and under Brad Frost with the Minnesota Gophers for a season. They take over a Pioneers program that was among Minnesota's best in 2022-23.
The New Prague native is a two-time U18 gold medalist and was a prep standout before producing 146 points in 160 games over five seasons in maroon and gold.
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The defenseman originally from southern California was a four-year regular on the U of M blue line, and a first-round pick of Buffalo in 2019.
Transfers from St. Lawrence, Princeton and UMD will help bolster the Gophers on the back end next season as they try to find a way back to the Frozen Four and repeat as WCHA tourney champs.
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Fargo native Trent Wiemken has gone 8-1-1 in the Robertson Cup playoffs as the mainstay goalie for the Austin Bruins playoffs while working with former Minnesota Gophers goalie Nick Lehr's coaching.

As for the challenge Minnesota presents, and especially the Gophers’ high-scoring top line of Matthew Knies, Logan Cooley and Jimmy Snuggerud, the Griffins said the key will be to play the physical brand of hockey that has gotten them this far. Minnesota is back to something as close to fully healthy as a team can be this late in a season, and perhaps the biggest difference between the two teams, at least this month, has been their workload.

Canisius will be playing its eighth game in the month of March on Thursday evening. For the Gophers, it will be their third, and their first game outside of Minneapolis since Feb. 18.


College men play ice hockey
After being tripped Minnesota forward Logan Cooley (92) upends Michigan State forward Miroslav Mucha (18) during the Big Ten semifinal at 3M Arena at Mariucci on Saturday, March 11, 2023, in Minneapolis.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

“We’re excited to get on the road. We’ve been home for a month,” Motzko said. “We get on the bus, leave the snow and come to snow. But it’s been a good trip for us so far.”

In 2015, Motzko brought his St. Cloud State club to Fargo for the regional, winning a wild overtime game versus Michigan Tech, then falling to the host Fighting Hawks in the final. He said he has been around the game long enough to know that his team’s No. 1 overall seeding and their opponents 16 seed mean very little once the puck drops.

“Do you know the difference between the six and the seven (seeds) was like .0017, like, OK, it doesn’t matter,” Motzko said. “It’s how you’re playing. The depth of college hockey, we’ve seen it for the last couple decades now and the last decade for sure … I’ve been a four (seed) that’s beat a one, and I’ve been a one that’s gotten beat by a four.”

Whether the Gophers win or lose, by Friday morning Motzko will have been one of those two things once again.

Minnesota defenseman Brock Faber, left, responds to a question while forward Jaxon Nelson looks on during the Fargo regional media day on March 22, 2023 at Scheels Arena in Fargo.
Rob Beer / The Rink Live
Canisius head coach Trevor Large, left, forward Keaton Mastrodonato and goaltender Jacob Barczewski listen to a question during the Fargo regional media day Wednesday, March 22, 2023 at Scheels Arena in Fargo.
Rob Beer / The Rink Live
Canisius goaltender Jacob Barczewski talks during the Fargo regional media day Wednesday, March 22, 2023 at Scheels Arena in Fargo.
Rob Beer / The Rink Live

Jess Myers covers college hockey, as well as outdoors, general sports and travel, for The Rink Live and the Forum Communications family of publications. He came to FCC in 2018 after three decades of covering sports as a freelancer for a variety of publications, while working full time in politics and media relations. A native of Warroad, Minn. (the real Hockeytown USA), Myers has a degree in journalism/communications from the University of Minnesota Duluth. He lives in the Twin Cities. Contact Jess via email at jrmyers@forumcomm.com, or find him on Twitter via @JessRMyers. English speaker.
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