In their first three seasons, the peak of their postseason experience was a losing effort at one conference championship tournament.

Members of Minnesota’s 2012 senior class entered their final season with the burden of potentially becoming the first such group since 1970 to never play in an NCAA tournament game.

But six months later, Minnesota players Jake Hansen, Taylor Matson, Nico Sacchetti, Kent Patterson, Nick Larson, Joey Miller and Jake Kremer are not only members of an NCAA tournament team, they’re on their way to a Frozen Four.

With a 5-2 win over North Dakota in their 154th game with the Gophers, the seniors and their teammates captured the West Regional championship and a trip to Tampa.

“We’ve been through so much,” Hansen said of himself and his senior classmates. “Freshman year, sophomore year, junior year, just brutal years for this program, and to come back to win a MacNaughton Cup and now to beat North Dakota to get to Tampa, I mean, I can’t begin to tell you how good it feels right now.”

“With all the battling and stuff that they’ve done to this point, it’s great that we can give them this opportunity,” said sophomore forward Nate Condon.

The Gophers were in position to get into the tournament last season before being unexpectedly swept by Alaska-Anchorage in the first round of the WCHA playoffs. Work toward redemption began almost immediately after those devastating losses.

“As a senior class, we kind of established ourselves last spring when our season ended early about what we wanted to get done and what our goal was,” said Sacchetti. “We’ve just tried to lead by example and just expect nothing less than getting to where we are right now.”

A stringent offseason program had Gophers coach Don Lucia calling this the best-conditioned team he had ever coached at Minnesota, and it paid off.

“The first time you do something, that’s when it’s really enjoyable,” said Lucia. “And for these guys that, at times, have been maligned, they just went to work this offseason and this just doesn’t happen in a week.”

“Hats off to every single guy in here,” Matson said, wearing his regional championship hat with no pun intended. “These guys worked harder than any team I’ve been a part of.”

Minnesota got off to a 9-1 start but went through a 10-10-1 midseason lull before finishing with a flourish. It heads to the Frozen Four having won nine of its last 11 games.

“Every team’s going to go through some difficult times but I don’t think they wavered,” said Lucia. “To see the joy in their faces in that locker room, that’s what makes it all worthwhile.”

“Our seniors stepped up,” said sophomore defenseman Nate Schmidt. “Guys like Taylor Matson and Jake Hansen and Nico Sacchetti, all of the guys, really just kind of took over and said, ‘We want to take our destiny into our own hands,’ and I think they did a fantastic job in taking a hold of this team.”

Expressing their joy was difficult for the seniors, who came into this season toting a 51-46-15 (.522) record.

“You just want it so bad and you just think about how much work we’ve put in since last spring and it all comes down to one moment,” said Sacchetti. “That last 20 minutes couldn’t have gone faster for me.”

“It really hasn’t hit me too much but, once we get on that flight to Tampa and start practicing next week, I’ll definitely feel it then,” said Matson. “To put these hats on and be hugging the guys on the ice, there’s nothing better than that.

“It’s all about the guys in this locker room and what they’ve done for the program.”

  • Mike


  • Mgd062

    funny how daaaakota is silent now

    • Fan Man

      Funny that now u actually show support for your team since they won! Way to jump on the wagon when they win and kick em’ when they are down or questionable… But honestly, the better team DID win last night and congrats to the reAl gopher fans out there! Hats off to you and good luck in the frozen

    • WCHA Grind


  • Philipvanschepen

    The hard work and leadership by the seniors set the tone early this year. In recent years there was too much talk about individual stats, and  development for pro careers. Captains didn’t always show up for off season workouts. This year, it was all about TEAM, and nobody worked harder than the seniors to ensure that. Nobody was looking for their next step.

  • Mr Hockey

    At the start of the year I went on the record as saying, this team is better then what was being predicted, a 6th place finish in the WCHA. People ripped me up and down and said I was just a delusional Gopher fan. Problem was, I live in Minnesota and have watched a lot of these players play through the years in high school and juniors. I just had this feeling for what ever reason this team was special. Did I honestly think they would make the Frozen Four? No, but I knew they’d be best team in the WCHA . With next years recruiting class coming the Gophers will be dominate for years to come. See you all in Tampa & always GO GOPHERS! SKI – U -MAH!!

  • Guest

    I’m sure North Dakota fans are trying to find as many excuses as they can. 

    Maybe if their team would have shown more fight on the ice then they do off the ice for a nickname, they might have had a chance.  Wait a minute, Danny Kristo thought he could beat them all by himself.

    I have never seen a more selfish player in college hockey.  Thanks for your help Danny………

    • guest

      No excuses, UM played a better game. The energy was strong from the home croud. Kristo was the only guy on UND that could get past the blue line. The rodents played tough D all night long and they were the better team. I tip my hat to them as a Sioux fan.

      As for the nickname cut, the NCAA has to stop being so Hypocritical! If teams like the Seminoles and Fighting Illini can keep their names, then all teams should. All or none is the only fair fight.

      • Chris

        But are Seminole and Illini derogatory words the french came up with to describe native americans?  There tribes also gave permission for the nicknames to be used, so the NCAA isn’t being hypocritical at all.

        • Mr Hockey

          Seminole Tribe gave FSU their blessing. Also if you go to FSU you’ll see the Oceola Seminole Tribes flag flying at the same height as the Florida State Flag and the United States flag.

        • Soundvision909

          Illini is not a tribe! They never have nor will exist, they dropped the chief.

      • patrickolson

        If I remember right, the NCAA gave the tribes themselves the option of allowing the “fighting Sioux” nickname or not. One group said yes, one said no.

        • Fan Man

           Umm no wrong again!  One tribe gave a 2/3 majority vote in favor of the name and the other group Standing Rock was not allowed to vote on the issue…   Get ur facts strait before you talk please :(   From a disgruntled Sioux fan

          • patrickolson

            That’s why I said “If I remember right”. I wasn’t disagreeing or agreeing…I just remember there being a vote between two groups. And besides, I wasn’t that far off anyway! 

          • patrickolson

            and btw, I am all for the fighting Sioux nickname. I think its a load of crap.

    • WCHA Grind


  • tom

    I have to admit that I was somewhat skeptical coming into the game vs North Dakota to thinking can they do it. And, wow, I should have had more faith in Lucia – nice win vs a Sioux Team, can I still refer to them as Sioux, that thought their ticket was already punched to the Final Four. Sorry Sioux, its the Gophers turn – Skol Gophers!!!!

  • GopherHockey78

    Watching yesterday’s game was both thrilling as a gopher fan and saddening at the same time.  As I watched the last few seconds tick off the game clock I realized that as great as it always is to see your team headed to the frozen four, I also realized that the best rivalry in college hockey’s days may be numbered.  I hope these two schools give serious thought to some type of annual series to keep as much of this rivalry alive as possible.  These two historic programs represent what college hockey is all about, and I for one look forward to each clash of these hockey titans win or lose.

  • Thunder Lips

    Yep, I am a Gopher fan and that means that I hate the Sioux.  However, it also means that I love to hate the Sioux.  As much as I hate North Dakota, I hate the idea of not playing them every year much more.  The U should make it an annual ordeal, make on New Years or Christmas Eve or something.