Good afternoon from TD Garden in Boston, home of the 2022 NCAA men's Frozen Four. It's less than an hour before puck drop in first semifinal between Denver and Michigan (4 p.m. Central, ESPN2), and that will be followed by the Gophers vs. Minnesota State Mankato (7:30 p.m., ESPNU).
Lots of Gophers and Mavericks fans in downtown Boston today, so tonight's game should have a fun Minnesota atmosphere.
In the opener, the Pioneers (29-9-1) and Wolverines (31-9-1) will bring plenty of high-end offense to the matchup. Denver has eight players with 30 or more points, led by national scoring leader Bobby Brink with 56. Michigan features seven NHL first-round draft picks, including four of the top five in 2021. In goal, it'll be a matchup of netminders from Sweden. Denver's Magnus Chrona is on a hot streak, surrendering two or fewer goals in six consecutive games. Michigan's Erik Portillo has given up 10 goals in his past three games – the Big Ten final vs. the Gophers and NCAA wins over American International and Quinnipiac — but the Wolverines won by putting up 16 goals in those games.
The Gophers and Minnesota State are meeting in the NCAA tournament for the second consecutive year. In 2021, the Mavericks blanked Minnesota 4-0 in the Loveland (Colo.) Regional final to advance to their first Frozen Four. Both Gophers coach Bob Motzko and Mavericks coach Mike Hastings see the start of the game as critical.
Motzko took a look at the tape from last year's meeting and quickly shut it off.
"I got 10 minutes through it. The two goals we gave up, they were just dumb mistakes on our part,'' he said. "I don't need to see any more of it because we're not playing like that right now. They can do that to you. When we got down, we got discouraged, and they can do that to you. … We have to be up for the fight, and we've got to bring the fight the first period to them.''
Said Hastings: "Anytime you get to these spots, and I've been on the good side and the bad side, these games take on their own personality. Can you stick with it whether you're in a peak or a valley? Can you maintain it or get out of it as quick as possible, or stay as long as possible when you're playing well?''
If you're looking for more on the Frozen Four, check out my coverage from Boston on startribune.com/sports. The highlights include Motzko sitting down for an interview on how he has persevered this season after the death of his son, Mack, in a car crash last summer.