Gophers headed to Fargo regional with St. Cloud State, Minnesota State and Canisius

Top seeded in the 16-team NCAA tournament, the Minnesota Gophers will face Canisius in their opener, needing two wins to get back to the Frozen Four, and four wins to claim a sixth national title.

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Minnesota Gophers captain Brock Faber hit the ice before a sellout crowd for the Big Ten tournament championship game on Saturday, March 18, 2023 at 3M Arena at Mariucci in Minneapolis.
Luke Schmidt / Gopher Sports

Bob Motzko generally takes the "it is what it is" stance with things a coach can't control. That attitude extends to things like the NCAA tournament schedule. Although the Minnesota coach had one quibble after seeing the bracket on Sunday evening.

The Minnesota Gophers are the top seed for the Fargo regional, and as such will get the No. 16-seeded Canisius Golden Griffins at 8 p.m. on Thursday night. That last detail was Motzko's only complaint.

"We don't want to practice, we want to play games. The only problem I saw was 8 o'clock (at night). I'd rather play at 8 in the morning," Motzko said. "We have a group that needs to get in some game time right now. I'm glad it's Thursday. They don't need to hear my whistle any more."


In the other Fargo matchup in the 5,000-seat Scheels Arena, St. Cloud State will face Minnesota State at 4 p.m. Thursday. The Huskies, making its 17th NCAA Division I tournament appearance and fifth straight, are coming off a 3-0 victory over Colorado College on Saturday in the NCHC Frozen Faceoff championship game.

The Mavericks, meanwhile, after two straight Frozen Four appearances, were just minutes away from a potential season-ending loss when they scored two goals in the final three minutes and an overtime winner by Zach Krajnik propelled them past Northern Michigan 3-2 on Saturday.

Last season, the Huskies got beat 5-4 by Quinnipiac in Allentown in the regional semifinals. In 2021, the Huskies made their second Frozen Four appearance by winning a regional in Albany, N.Y.

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Minnesota Gophers head coach Bob Motzko gives players instructions against Penn State in the second period Thursday, Nov. 10, 2022, at 3M Arena at Mariucci in Minneapolis.
Jason Wachter / The Rink Live

Familiarity with Fargo

The bracket reveal, televised by ESPN, showed that after winning the Big Ten title and holding the top spot in the national polls and the PairWise for much of the season, the Gophers still have to leave the state in order to find a way back to the Frozen Four.

But only by about a mile or so.


Although Minnesota has never played in a regional there, Scheels Arena is a place several players know from pre-college hockey.

"It's a place a lot of guys are familiar with, either from youth (hockey) or from playing juniors up there," said defenseman Mike Koster. "We're excited to go up there and have been waiting for this moment for a while this season."

The St. Cloud State men’s hockey team watched the NCAA Division I tournament field announcement with the NCHC Frozen Faceoff championship trophy on Sunday, March 19, 2023, at Green Mill in St. Cloud, Minn. The Huskies will play Minnesota State at 4 p.m. Thursday at Scheels Arena in Fargo.
Mick Hatten / The Rink Live

A win on Thursday and the Gophers will advance to face a familiar foe, with St. Cloud State facing Minnesota State Mankato in the opening game on Thursday.

St. Cloud's last two regional tournament games were sparsely attended. The Huskies are anticipating a much different atmosphere in Fargo, where they'll join the other two Minnesota teams making the drive to the regional.


"It's going to be awesome," SCSU captain Spencer Meier said. "Three Minnesota teams in one regional. The place is going to be packed and I think that's going to be great.

"Sometimes you play in a regional and there aren't that many people there and the atmosphere is sometimes dead," said Meier, who will be playing in his fourth NCAA regional. "There weren't that many people in Allentown (last year). My family is already texting me about tickets and I'm sure it will sell out."

St. Cloud State wing Veeti Miettinen (29) and Minnesota State defenseman Andy Carroll (4) battle for the puck in the first period Friday, Oct. 21, 2022, at the Herb Brooks National Hockey Center in St. Cloud.
Jason Wachter/The Rink Live

And the Huskies will face an opponent that they are very familiar with. St. Cloud State and Minnesota State have played four regular season games against one another in the last two seasons and the teams played an epic game in the national semifinals in 2021 in Pittsburgh.

"The one thing with Mankato that I think is fortunate for us is that I see their style as real similar to a (Minnesota) Duluth or North Dakota," said Huskies coach Brett Larson, whose team has played six games against those teams in the last three weekends. "(The Mavericks) are well-coached, they defend well and they're hard and heavy. They get pucks and bodies to the net and have a really good structure.

"Hopefully, the fact that we've had to grind it out against similar teams the last few games will help us be prepared for them."


Fargo, too, has some familiarity for Minnesota State senior Andy Carroll. The Fargo Country Club announced on Saturday that the defenseman will be teaching lessons there.

Minnesota State won the MacNaughton Cup as the CCHA's regular-season champion in a final game battle against Michigan Tech, which is heading to the Allentown Regional.

"It's crazy, fellas, you just turned the page and wrote another chapter in the history of our program," Mavericks head coach Mike Hastings told his team Saturday night.

In the last five meetings between the Mavericks and Huskies, SCSU has a 4-1 record, including two one-goal wins this season at the Herb Brooks National Hockey Center.


The other team that the Huskies have played in the Fargo regional is Minnesota. The Huskies picked up a home win (3-0) and an overtime loss (2-1) in Minneapolis in January.

It will not be the Gophers' first regional in the Flickertail State. They were in Grand Forks in 2006 for the legendary upset loss to Holy Cross.

"We get to play this week, we'll play close to him with a little Minnesota flavor, and we also have to take on Canisius which just won their conference championship to get in there," Motzko said. "One thing that's proven over recent history, the last decade or so, one and four seeds don't matter. Two and three seeds don't matter. It's how you're playing and we've got to make sure we're playing our best."


Minnesota brings a 26-9-1 record into the NCAA tournament, seeking a return to the Frozen Four for the second consecutive year. Last season they were sent out east to Worcester, Mass., where they rallied to beat UMass in overtime, then shut out Western Michigan to advance to the Boston Frozen Four.

The Golden Griffins come to Fargo with a 20-18-3 record, having beaten Holy Cross to win the Atlantic Hockey tournament after a fourth place finish in the regular season. Canisius is a Catholic school in Buffalo, N.Y., which will be making its second-ever trip to the NCAA tournament. The Griffins fell to Quinnipiac in the tournament opener in 2013.

"They're coming in on a hot streak. They just won a championship. It's hard to look much further than that," Gophers forward Mason Nevers said. "Our whole mindset is just Canisius right now. But three Minnesota teams in the bracket is a lot of fun."

Minnesota split home-and-home series with both the Mavericks and the Huskies earlier in the season.

It will be the NCAA-record 40th trip to the NCAA tournament for the Gophers, and their third in a row under Motzko. Two years ago Minnesota was the top seed at the Loveland (Colo.) regional, and beat Omaha in the opener before falling to MSU Mankato in the final. In 2022 Minnesota was the second seed in Worcester.

Minnesota and Canisius have played one time previously with the Gophers blanking the Griffins 1-0 in Minneapolis on Oct. 28, 2012.

Jess Myers covers college hockey, as well as outdoors, general sports and travel, for The Rink Live and the Forum Communications family of publications. He came to FCC in 2018 after three decades of covering sports as a freelancer for a variety of publications, while working full time in politics and media relations. A native of Warroad, Minn. (the real Hockeytown USA), Myers has a degree in journalism/communications from the University of Minnesota Duluth. He lives in the Twin Cities. Contact Jess via email at, or find him on Twitter via @JessRMyers. English speaker.
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