Despite his team’s draw for the NCAA men’s hockey tournament, Gophers coach Don Lucia insisted Sunday that his household will not be divided when his team begins play on Saturday. The fifth-ranked Gophers, who received the No. 1 seed for the Northeast regional in Manchester, N.H., will face off in the first round against Notre Dame — alma mater of both the coach and his son Mario.
Lucia said he was excited the Gophers would play a team both familiar and fresh as they return to the tournament after a one-year absence. They have a long history with the Irish, but they not played them or the other two teams in the Manchester regional — which also includes Cornell and UMass-Lowell — this season. The Gophers and Irish play at 2:30 p.m. Saturday at SNHU Arena, with Cornell and UMass facing off at 11 a.m.
The winners play Sunday at 2:30 p.m., with the victor advancing to the Frozen Four on April 6-8 in Chicago.
The only other in-state team to make the 16-team field was Minnesota Duluth, the No. 1 seed in the Fargo regional. Third-ranked UMD opens play Friday at Scheels Arena against Ohio State. North Dakota and Boston University will face off in the other first-round game of the Fargo regional, a quick drive down I-29 for the fans from Grand Forks.
The top four overall seeds are top-ranked Denver, UMD, second-ranked Harvard and the Gophers. The Cincinnati regional begins Saturday, with Denver facing Michigan Tech and Penn State playing Union. The Providence regional starts Friday, with Harvard playing Providence and Western Michigan playing Air Force.
“My wife mentioned she wants to go out [to the regional], and I said, ‘Make sure you know who you’re cheering for this weekend,’ ” said Lucia, who added that the Gophers and Notre Dame played each other at least once each season from 2011-12 through 2015-16. “I’m excited to play a great program. I think that’s the big thing for me. It’s a brand-name school, and they’ve got outstanding players.
“It’s a team we’ve seen the last four years. We know them, and they know us. It should be a great matchup, and it’s a very good regional with all four teams.”
The Gophers (23-11-3) will make their 37th NCAA tournament appearance, the most of any team in history. They missed the tournament last season. Winners of a fourth consecutive Big Ten regular-season title, they lost to Penn State 4-3 in double overtime Friday in the semifinals of the Big Ten tournament.
The Big Ten got three teams — the Gophers, Penn State and Ohio State — in the tournament for the first time. Notre Dame will join the conference as a hockey-only member next season.
Rachel Blount • 612-673-4389