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NCAA Frozen Four has decidedly Minnesota flavor

Both Minnesota State and the U of M skated past opponents over the weekend, and will face each other in one side of the NCAA championship bracket.
Credit: AP
Western Michigan's Josh Passolt (21) is taken down by Minnesota's Mike Koster (6) as the puck gets away in front of Minnesota goalie Justen Close, left, during an NCAA hockey regional final in Worcester, Mass., Sunday, March 27, 2022. (Steve Lanava/Worcester Telegram & Gazette via AP)

BOSTON — Minnesota is often referred to as The State of Hockey and the NCAA Frozen Four reflects that, with two of the finalists being from within these borders. 

The University of Minnesota Gophers set down Western Michigan 3-0 Sunday afternoon to advance to the championship bracket. There they will face in-state colleagues Minnesota State-Mankato, who made the show by beating Notre Dame in a 1-0 nail biter Saturday. 

Matthew Knies, Aaron Huglen and Blake McLaughlin scored for the Golden Gophers, while goaltender Justin Close turned in a shutout. 

The win marks the U of M's 22nd trip to the Frozen Four, where the Gophers will seek their sixth NCAA championship. It will be head coach Bob Motzko's first trip to the championship round since taking the reigns of the U of M program four years ago. The win also came on his birthday. 

RELATED: Four Minnesota hockey teams in the NCAA tournament

Top-ranked Minnesota State made the Final Four by turning back Notre Dame in a 1-0 nail biter Saturday. Senior netminder Dryden McKay earned a shutout and helped push the Mavericks to 37-5-0 on the season. It was McKay's 10th shutout of the season, reminding fans why he is a finalist for the Richter Award as the top goaltender in the country 

Junior center Nathan Smith scored on a rebound put-back with just 16 seconds left in the first period, and that goal would hold up as the game winner. 

“You know, everybody gets to the tournament, their records go away, wins losses, it’s kind of like a new season. You come into these tournaments and you know every game is going to be hard. Every team’s really good. So, I think, we had a game plan and we executed it pretty well and we’ve got a brick in net so that helps,” said Smith.

The Mavericks and fifth-ranked Gophers will meet in Boston April 7, at a time that will be set in coming days. 

On the other side of the Frozen Four will be a meeting between Michigan and Denver, who advanced with victories over the weekend. In fact, the championship bracket could have featured three Minnesota teams, had Denver not beaten the University of Minnesota-Duluth 2-1 in their regional final Saturday. 

   

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