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GOLDEN VALLEY, Minn. - The Minnesota Golden Gophers men's hockey team will begin its run for a national championship on Friday intheir NCAA regional game against Yale in Grand Rapids, Mich.

"The vibe's great. I think we're up tempo," said Gophers defenseman Seth Helgeson. "I mean, we've had a good three practices, so far. I think we are ready for this weekend."

The Gophers will have to be ready. The single-game elimination tournament can end quickly no matter how highly touted a team is.

"When you look at college hockey this year, I don't think there is a front-runner," said Gophers coach Don Lucia said. "I think just about anybody in the field this year could win it."

The Gophers enter as the No. 2 overall seed in the tournament and the top seed in the NCAA West Regional, but they are also coming off of a loss to a sub-.500 team in Colorado College in a WCHA semifinal game.

"After we lost on Friday, we took Saturday and Sunday off knowing that we would probably be in the Grand Rapids regional on Friday, so you try to charge up the batteries a little bit," said Lucia. "We had a good week and they are excited to get on the plane and go."

"I think it helped our guys to kind of get away from the rink," said Gophers defenseman Nate Schmidt. "We had been there the last couple of weeks straight. I think it was just a really good recovery for everybody. We were just hanging out all day with the guys. Everyone was just kind of relaxed."

College students are used to relaxing over Spring Break, but a trip to Michigan rather than Florida or Cancun will definitely have a business feel for the Gophers.

"We just got to prepare and go in and play like we always play," Helgeson said.

"We feel good about where we're at. We've had a really good week of practice," Lucia said. "I think the guys are excited. I think they are energized."

This will be the first postseason game between Minnesota and Yale. The series dates back to 1934 with the Gophers leading 13-6-0 overall. Minnesota has won seven straight games against Yale including the last meeting in 2002.

Minnesota and Yale will open the tournament on Friday at 1 p.m. North Dakota and Niagara face off at 4:30 p.m. The winners will play in the semifinal game at 3 p.m. on Saturday. This weekend's games will be televised on ESPNU.

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