2013 NCAA Hockey West Regional: Minnesota finds themselves in a new position

Adam Wilcox plays in his first NCAA Tournament game - Minnesota Athletics

The Gophers face Yale Friday afternoon in the West Region.

Stop if you've heard this story before.

The University of Minnesota once again find themselves in the West Regional. They are in possession of the MacNaughton Cup (an honor shared with St. Cloud State) and are coming off an embarrassing loss in their first WCHA Final Five game.

The Gophers even have a chance to face their WCHA rivals North Dakota in the second round if both teams advance. Again.

This all has the feel of a sequel, one like "The Hangover Part II" where the plot is the exact same outside of "Bangkok" being substituted for "Las Vegas." Like that movie, this year's West Regional has the possibility of being seen by fewer people. Instead of being 9 miles from Dinkytown in St. Paul, the 2013 West Regional is held in Grand Rapids, Michigan. "Beer City, USA" is a 582 mile drive from Mariucci Arena and none of the 4 teams are within 350 miles.

Still, Gopher head coach Don Lucia, who has been behind two championship teams, doesn't see it being a big issue.

"We had the luxury of playing at home last year," he said. "The big question mark is attendance. Whether we have many people at the games you're going to have to be able to block it out. We've talked to our guys about it."

Not everything is the same. Minnesota this year enters the NCAA Tournament as the #2 overall seed. Expectations are higher after a Frozen Four run last year and there is unfinished business. At the same time, the team has learned a lot from that experience.

"Last year didn't go the way we wanted it to go. Hopefully we can get back to that point this year again," said sophomore forward Sam Warning. "We have a great team this year so I think that experience will help us. The majority of the guys there last year are here this year so I think it'll help us out probably about any way it can help you."

One positive for the Gophers is getting Warning back in last Friday's 2-0 loss to Colorado College after missing two games. Minnesota is fully healthy with the sophomore on the second line next to Erik Haula.

All the talk about Frozen Fours and facing North Dakota, however, is premature because the Gophers have to first face Yale. Although the Bulldogs were the last team in the NCAA Tournament, they had a chance to be as high as the fifth-overall seed entering last weekend.

"(Yale) sounds like a fun team to play against," junior forward Nate Condon said. "Getting up and down the ice, a lot of speed. Especially for a guy like me who likes to use his speed it's going to be a fun game for us."

They also have experience in the NCAA Tournament, having made it 4 of the 5 years. Yale is a team that can't be underestimated regardless of their seed. The Gophers need to get the most out of their top players - the Nick Bjugstads, the Erik Haulas, good goaltending from Adam Wilcox - if they want to avoid being part of something different: an upset.

"Part of the great thing about the NCAA Tournament is upsets. Whether it's hockey or basketball or anything else. That's what makes the tournament special," Lucia said. "I've been on both sides of it. I've been on teams that have been upset and I've been on teams where you're the lowest seed and made the Frozen Four. It's just all about playing well.

--

Minnesota and Yale play at Van Andel Arena in a West Regional first round game Friday afternoon. The game begins at 1 p.m. CT and will air on ESPNU.

For more University of Minnesota coverage, read The Daily Gopher. Follow SB Nation College Hockey on Twitter @sbncollegepuck and like us on Facebook.

You can follow Nate on Twitter @gopherstate.

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