Puck Drop
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BOSTON – Good afternoon from TD Garden, home of the 2022 NCAA men's Frozen Four. Today is media day leading up to Thursday's semifinals between Denver and Michigan (4 p.m. Central) and the Gophers and Minnesota State Mankato (7:30 p.m.). All four teams will practice and hold news conferences today, beginning with Denver at 11:15 a.m., Michigan at 12:30 p.m., Minnesota State at 1:45 and the Gophers at 3 p.m. I'll be posting highlights after each news conference on this blog.

There's already been some news this morning with Minnesota State coach Mike Hastings being named the winner of the Spencer Penrose Award as National Coach of the Year by the American Hockey Coaches Association. It's the second consecutive year and third time overall that Hastings has won the award. Minnesota State enters the Frozen Four with a 37-5 record after winning the CCHA regular-season and tournament titles. Hastings is only the fourth coach to win the award three times, joining Len Ceglarski (Boston College and Clarkson), Charlie Holt (New Hampshire) and Jack Parker (Boston University).

"First of all, I'm very appreciative based on one thing: It's your peer group that votes on that,'' Hastings said Wednesday. "But at the end of the day, coaches go nowhere without their players. … A coach gets recognized for what his team does.''

In his 10 years at Minnesota State, Hastings has compiled a 273-94-24 record for a nation's-best .727 winning percentage. His teams have won the MacNaughton Cup as regular-season champions of the CCHA or WCHA in seven of the past eight years.

The other finalists for the award were the other three Frozen Four coaches: The Gophers' Bob Motzko, Michigan's Mel Pearson and Denver's David Carle. Also in the mix were North Dakota's Brad Berry, Northeastern's Jerry Keefe, American International's Eric Lang and Quinnipiac's Rand Pecknold.

Denver preps for Michigan

Coach David Carle has the nation's highest-scoring team at 4.3 goals per game, and the Pioneers will play a Michigan team that ranks third at 4.0 per game.

"Looking forward to getting after it tomorrow,'' Carle said. "Looking forward to what I assume will be an entertaining game against Michigan.''

When asked if the Pioneers planned to get in a track meet with the Wolverines or slow the pace, Carle joked, "We're going to go for 9-8.''

The Pioneers certainly have players who can score, led by forward Bobby Brink of Minnetonka, who leads the nation in scoring with 56 points on 14 goals and 42 assists. The Hobey Baker Award Hat Trick finalist is joined by seven other teammates who have 30 or more points.

Brink sees Denver needing a solid defensive effort like it had in a 2-1 win over Minnesota Duluth in the Loveland Regional final.

"They're a skilled team that likes to produce offense,'' Brink said of the Wolverines. "To combat that, we have to be hard defensively and play within our structure. If we do that, I think we'll be successful.''

Brink's father, Andy, was a Gophers center from 1992-96, but Bobby expects him to have only one allegiance at the Frozen Four.

"My dad's all-Pioneers this weekend,'' Brink said.

"He better be,'' Carle responded.

Michigan oozes confidence

At 31-9-1, Michigan is the No. 1 overall seed in the tournament, and the Wolverines are embracing the role as favorites.

"I feel like we're playing our best hockey at the right time of the year,'' Michigan coach Mel Pearson said. "This is my 40th year at the Division I level as a coach, and I have a little idea of what it takes to win. We have the goaltending. We have the defense. We have the forwards. We have the depth.''

The Wolverines beat American International 5-3 and Quinnipiac 7-4 to advance to the Frozen Four. They say they're prepared for whatever game Denver throws at them.

"The best thing about our team is we can play any type of game,'' forward Jimmy Lambert said. "We've showed that all year long. We've played teams that play both styles of games, and we've won. No matter what is in front of us, we're ready for it. The type of game I want to see tomorrow is a 1-0 or 2-0 win.

Forward Mike Pastujov concurred.

"We've matched up against all of them pretty well,'' he said. "If it's 9-8, good luck getting eight on us.''

Mavericks seek next step

Minnesota State won its first NCAA tournament game as a Division I program with an overtime win over Quinnipiac in Loveland, Colo., last year and followed that up by beating the Gophers for a spot in the Frozen Four in Pittsburgh, where they fell 5-4 to St. Cloud State in the semifinals. The Mavericks want to finish the job this year.

"It was a tough out last year, and the boys are pretty excited to be back and make another run for it,'' Mavericks forward Nathan Smith said.

The Mavericks have won three in a row and six of the past seven meetings against the Gophers. Minnesota's last victory in the series was 1-0 on Nov. 19, 2016, at 3M Arena at Mariucci.

Mavericks captain Wyatt Aamodt relishes playing the Gophers.

"Growing up as a Minnesota kid and watching all the Division I programs in our state was pretty cool to see,'' said Aamodt, a Hermantown native. "To get play the big dog of Minnesota college teams, as some people would say, on the national stage will be pretty cool.''

Hastings sees a key as being whichever team can establish its style of play.

"Two teams are going to go out and try to get to their own game as quick as they can,'' Hastings said. "With a team with the amount draft picks and the amount of talent they have, we don't want to create their offense for them. Puck management is going to be very important to us. … Possess the puck. We're a better team when we have it than when we don't.''

Gophers at home in Massachusetts

The Gophers are in their first Frozen Four since 2014, earning their berth after winning the Worcester (Mass.) Regional. They hope to make themselves at home again in the Bay State.

"We sure like Massachusetts, I can tell you that,'' Motzko said. "We're excited to get through that regional in Worcester.''

By beating Massachusetts 4-3 in overtime and Western Michigan 3-0 in the NCAA first and second round, earned a spot in the semifinals against Minnesota State, the team that ended their season in 2021.

"We were so close a year ago, and that leaves a burning hole in all of us,'' Motzko said.

Thursday will be the 20th anniversary of the Gophers' 2002 national championship victory over Maine at Xcel Energy Center, and Motzko was an assistant coach on that team.

"Yes, you do draw back, but unfortunately you draw back on the losses more than the wins,'' he said. "They teach you a lesson. It was a special time back in 2002 and 2003, and I was fortunate to jump on board at the right time. What I do remember is what it meant to everybody in the Twin Cities.

"… From a coaching standpoint, these guys don't remember that, unless they hear stories from [assistant coach] Paul Martin or myself,'' he added. "It's about their experiences, the path we've been on and the journey we've been on.''