2014 Frozen Four: Gophers looking at final weekend in a new light

Matt Christians

You and I have unfinished business Frozen Four...

It's a thought that's lingered in the back of Nate Condon's head. He's had plenty of time to think about what went wrong during the 2012 Frozen Four semifinals.

Turns out the dreaded "we're just happy to be here" cliche doesn't always end happy.

"Last time we were just happy to be there and got spanked pretty good by BC," he said.

Minnesota gets the chance to change that this weekend. The Gophers are in the Frozen Four for the second time in three seasons, and 21st time in program history, after defeating St. Cloud State 4-0 last week.Two wins against North Dakota and the winner of Boston College-Union would give the program its sixth NCAA Hockey national championship.

11 players were on the team two years ago when the Gophers fell 6-1 to eventual national champion Boston College. The result came at the end of a season where head coach Don Lucia's club was not expected to contend. Minnesota, then coming off its third consecutive year missing the NCAA Tournament, surprised many by winning the WCHA regular season title.

In that end, making the Frozen Four as a two seed was an accomplishment. Things have changed, though.

"Going to the Frozen Four never gets old. It is a thrill," said Lucia, who has won two national championships with Minnesota (2002, 2003), following the win over the Huskies. "I've been to a handful now, but for the guys that haven't been there before to go through the heartache that we did last year with losing in overtime to be able to come back this year and get back to Philadelphia is a real credit to our group of guys."

For several other Minnesota players, however, the 2014 Frozen Four is a new experience that is months in the making.

"It's awesome. It's something you grow up wanting to be in, seeing the one in St. Paul a decade ago," sophomore defenseman Mike Reilly said. "It all starts in the summer there and just pushing your teammates every single day. We became a top team because of our senior leadership."

This time around the Gophers enter the Frozen Four as the top overall seed in the 16 team tournament. Getting a chance to defeat North Dakota (Thursday 7:30 p.m. CT ESPN2) and, if that happens, a possible Frozen Four rematch with Boston College. The two teams played to a 3-3 tie and 6-1 UMN win last October in Minneapolis, but there is unfinished business on this stage.

Whether that happens or not, the lessons learned from the upperclassmen have paid dividends so far for a Minnesota team that is hungrier for a national title in 2014.

"We went there two years ago and it definitely wasn't what we wanted down there (in Tampa), kind of embarrassed against BC, so we're excited to get another shot," said junior Travis Boyd.

"I think this time will be different."

--

Nathan Wells is a college hockey columnist for SB Nation. You can also follow him on Twitter --

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