ST. PAUL (AP) -- Playing for its first NCAA championship in 13 years, Minnesota is drawing strength from its hometown fans and motivation from last year's early round loss.
Maine used a last-second comeback to knock Minnesota out of the first round of last year's NCAA hockey tournament. When the teams meet Saturday, a national championship is on the line.
"Hopefully, this year we can give them some payback," said Minnesota forward Grant Potulny.
Minnesota, looking for its first title since 1979, has a hometown advantage, playing at Xcel Energy Center just 8 miles from campus. A tournament-record crowd of 19,234, most wearing maroon and gold, showed up for the Gophers' 3-2 win over Michigan in the semifinals Thursday night.
"I'm hoping they can give us that big boost again," Minnesota coach Don Lucia said Friday. "When we scored that first goal, it was electric in there."
Maine interim coach Tim Whitehead is unfazed. "I'd much rather have that situation than a half-full arena," Whitehead said. "What a tremendous situation it's going to be."
Maine defenseman Peter Metcalf said, "It's almost more exciting to score a goal and hear the crowd go silent. It's us against 19,000."
Maine (26-10-7) hasn't had to wait as long as Minnesota (31-8-4) for a title shot. But the Black Bears endured a tough road in returning to the championship game. Their coach of 17 years, Shawn Walsh, died the day before practice began. A title would be a fitting tribute to Walsh. "He was like a father figure to me," Metcalf said. "The grieving process is still going to continue long after this year."
Brainerd Dispatch ©2013. All Rights Reserved.