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Brock Faber remembers the night of April 5, 2022, all too well.

The Gophers struck first against Minnesota State Mankato in the NCAA men's Frozen Four semifinals in Boston, taking a 1-0 first-period lead and sitting 40 minutes away from playing for a national championship.

That dream, however, disappeared as the Mavericks scored five unanswered goals and ended the Gophers' season for a second consecutive year.

"It was an unfortunate ending last year and something we learned from, something you go to bed thinking about," said Faber, a defenseman and captain for Minnesota.

That hunger for a national title has fueled Faber so much that he chose to return for his junior season with the Gophers rather than signing with the hometown Wild, who hold his NHL rights.

He and his teammates have another chance to make their national championship aspirations reality at the Frozen Four, starting Thursday in Tampa, Fla. The top-ranked Gophers face No. 5 Boston University on Thursday with the winner playing Quinnipiac or Michigan on Saturday for the national title.

"It's that time of year, and we're back," said Faber, who's expected to sign with the Wild once the Gophers' season is over. "We're excited to hopefully play a lot better this time around."

A leader to lean on

The Gophers (28-9-1) enter the tournament as the favorite, thanks in large part to a roster that includes 14 NHL draft picks. Keeping all that talent focused on the team's ultimate goal is the job of Bob Motzko and his coaching staff, and they're getting help from Faber, a 20-year-old from Maple Grove who relishes his leadership role. He wasn't shy in letting the coaches know that was his plan when he decided to return this season.

"It was almost like he was saying: 'I'm the captain,' " Motzko said. "Well, we'll see what your teammates think."

Players vote to pick the captain. "And of course, they thought the same," Motzko said. "He wanted that role, and this is one of the first times he's been an older guy on a team. He's excited because his play is elevated."

Faber is known for his ability to keep opponents in check, as evidenced by his back-to-back Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year awards. While he might not possess all the offensive skills that fellow blue-liner Jackson LaCombe has, Faber still has 25 points on four goals and 21 assists this season, and his plus-minus rating is plus-27.

"He's making more plays. He's involved in the offense," Motzko said. "He's not out there just defending, which he takes such great pride in. You've just seen Brock take a monster step as a player and as a born leader. … He cares about this program so much."

Wild in his future

While the Frozen Four appears to be Faber's last hurrah with the Gophers, he'll still be around the Twin Cities. The Los Angeles Kings, who selected Faber in the second round of the 2020 NHL draft, traded his rights to the Wild last June in the Kevin Fiala deal. Wild General Manager Bill Guerin was content to see Faber develop with the Gophers.

"He's a high-end prospect, someone we think is not far away from playing at all," Guerin said after acquiring Faber. "He's going back for his third year at the U, but in all actuality, Brock could probably play sooner than that. It'll be a good year for him back there, and we'll cross that bridge at the end of the season."

The Wild, though, must wait while Faber tries to complete some unfinished business. He knows the stakes, and level of competition, increase as the trophy comes into focus.

As a leader, Faber wants to impart the knowledge he gained in last year's Frozen Four experience to Minnesota's talented freshman class. Their captain knows what's at stake and the type of legacy this team can leave.

"Something that we really, really talked about a lot is that this program means a lot more than just you and the name on the back of the jersey, as Herb Brooks obviously said," Faber said. "There's a lot of people who came through here and have sacrificed so much to allow us to be at this stage in our lives. Being proud to wear that 'M' is something we all feel, and it's an honor."

NCAA men's Frozen Four

Amalie Arena, Tampa, Fla.; all games on ESPN2

Thursday's semifinals

No. 1-ranked Gophers (28-9-1) vs. No. 5 Boston University (29-10-0), 4 p.m.

No. 2 Quinnipiac (32-4-3) vs. No. 3 Michigan (26-11-3), 7:30 p.m.

Saturday's championship, 7 p.m.