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College men's hockey: Xcel loaded for West Regional

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Two regular-season league champions. One postseason league champion. One team that finished eighth in its league despite winning 23 games this season.

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Throw those teams together and you have the West Regional of the NCAA Division I men’s hockey tournament.

And two of those teams are quite familiar with the setting for the regional. The top seed in the region and in the national tournament is the host team, Minnesota, which won the regional the last time it was held at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul (2012). The No. 3 seed, St. Cloud State, is just more than an hour’s drive away.

It’s no guarantee that the Gophers and the Huskies will meet in Sunday’s region final (6:30 p.m., ESPNU), though.

Big Ten Conference regular season champion Minnesota (25-6-6) must first get past Atlantic Hockey postseason champ Robert Morris (19-17-5) at 4:30 p.m. today. NCHC regular season champ St. Cloud State (21-10-5) has to battle the No. 2 seed in the region, Notre Dame (23-14-2) at 8 p.m. tonight.

 “It kind of has a national flavor with four teams from different conferences,” Gophers coach Don Lucia said.

The Gophers learned to not look past an opening-round opponent last season, when they lost to eventual national champion Yale 3-2. Though Robert Morris is the last seed in the 16-team field, the Gophers won’t take the Colonials lightly. RMU is the hottest team in the West Regional, having won five consecutive games to earn Atlantic Hockey’s automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.

The Colonials were 2-12-2 on Jan. 1. Since then, they are 17-5-3.

The Gophers have been consistent throughout the season. They went 14-3-3 to win the inaugural Big Ten regular season title and they finished 11-3-3 in non-conference play, facing four teams that made the national tournament.

Minnesota is led by one of the top goalies in the country, sophomore Adam Wilcox (23-5-6, 1.91 goals-against average, .934 save percentage). He is the Big Ten Goalie of the Year and a Hobey Baker finalist.

 “We’ve played a very tough non-conference schedule and within our own conference,” Lucia said, “and I think that helped us prepare (for the national tournament).”

St. Cloud State made its first-ever trip to the Frozen Four last season, losing 4-1 to Quinnipiac in the national semifinals. The Huskies are led by senior forward Nic Dowd, a Hobey Baker Award finalist who has a team-best 39 points.

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