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Gophers head to Worcester for a NCAA date with defending champion UMass

While it is technically a neutral site, the Minnesota Gophers will try to find a home on the road on Friday in Worcester, Mass., when they open NCAA tournament play versus UMass, the 2021 national champions

Wisconsin vs Minnesota
Minnesota celebrates Jaxon Nelson's tip-in, power play goal that put the Gophers ahead 2-0 in the second period against Wisconsin at 3M Arena at Mariucci on Friday, Feb. 25, 2022.
Contributed / Matt Krohn / University of Minnesota Athletics

EDINA, Minn. – In his fabled pro wrestling career, Minnesota native Ric Flair was fond of saying, “to be the man, you’ve gotta beat the man.” On Friday, the Minnesota Gophers will get that opportunity in the NCAA hockey tournament.

Step one on what the Gophers hope will be their sixth national hockey title is a date with defending champion UMass on Friday evening at the DCU Center in Worcester, Mass.

The Gophers (24-12-0) are 4-0-0 all-time versus UMass, which shut out St. Cloud State 5-0 for the 2021 NCAA title. Minnesota has never met the Minutemen in NCAA tournament play. UMass is 22-12-2 overall this season and won the Hockey East tournament over the weekend, beating UConn in overtime.


While the arena is technically a neutral site, the Minutemen will be playing less than 60 miles from their campus, but Minnesota coach Bob Motzko said he is fine with being the de facto road team, and that there are no easy games left when you are among the final 16 teams still playing.

“It never gets old. This is a great time of year and they call it March Madness for a reason,” Motzko said, following a team gathering at Tavern 23 in Edina to watch the NCAA Selection Show. “You get to this time of year and it’s a ‘pick ‘em.’ You see the games that are lining up and tell me an easy game in this bracket or in this whole tournament. There isn’t one. So we’ve got a lot of work to do because we don’t see a lot of Eastern teams. They’ve got to get ready for us and we’ve got to get ready for them.”

For UMass, it will be their fourth consecutive NCAA tournament game played versus a team from Minnesota. They beat Bemidji State, Minnesota Duluth and St. Cloud State in the playoffs last season to claim their first national hockey title. In 2019, Minnesota Duluth beat the Minutemen 3-0 in the NCAA title game in Buffalo.

Former Gopher forward Garrett Wait transferred to UMass following the 2019-20 season and remains friends with several of the current Gophers.


“I was texting him this morning when I was looking on Twitter and seeing that we were probably going to play them,” said Gophers defenseman Ben Brinkman, who played with Wait in high school for Edina and with the Gophers. “I was asking him when they lose, how teams play against them and what’s hard on them, and he wouldn’t give me anything.”

Follow the 2022 NCAA men's hockey tournament coverage on The Rink Live for previews, recaps, photos, information and more as the teams play for a national championship in Boston.

It is the Gophers’ second trip to the NCAA tournament in Motzko’s four years as their head coach. They were the top seed in the Loveland regional a year ago, defeating Omaha in the opener before falling to Minnesota State Mankato in the quarterfinal round, as the Mavericks made their first-ever Frozen Four trip.

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“You take out the COVID year and our freshmen are one-for-one, our sophomores are two-for-two and our juniors are two-for-two,” Motzko said. “Relish the moment and enjoy this and let’s get ready to play.”

Minnesota last advanced to the Frozen Four in 2014 in Philadelphia, where the Gophers beat North Dakota on a last-second goal in the semifinals before falling to Union in the title game. Motzko coached St. Cloud State to the Frozen Four in 2013 in Pittsburgh, where the Huskies fell to Quinnipiac in the tournament opener.

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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