BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) -- Don Lucia believes New Hampshire is overdue to win its first NCAA hockey championship.
The Minnesota coach has only one stipulation: Not this year.
Lucia's Golden Gophers (27-8-9) face New Hampshire (28-7-6) in Saturday's Frozen Four final.
As defending champions, they have an opportunity to become the first team to defend its title since Boston University won in 1971 and 1972. The Gophers have won four titles overall.
The Wildcats have yet to win one, despite making their fourth final four appearance in six years and seventh overall.
Lucia is aware of New Hampshire's past, and holds plenty of respect for Wildcats coach Dick Umile.
"If we weren't playing in the game, I'd probably be rooting for New Hampshire to be quite honest," said Lucia. "(Umile) is certainly a coach that deserves to win one. He's everything that's good about college sports."
Then, pausing for effect, Lucia added: "But maybe he can wait another year."
The Wildcats respectfully disagree.
"Not a lot of times has a UNH team been here," senior Colin Hemingway said. "And we have to make the most of this opportunity."
New Hampshire, in 1999, lost 3-2 in overtime to Maine in the Wildcats only championship game appearance.
"It's business," New Hampshire goaltender Mike Ayers said. "I don't think just being here is going to be it. The guys know what we're here for."
Ayers is a big reason the Wildcats have made it this far. His 2.14 goals-against average ranks second in the nation and he's set school records this season with 26 wins and seven shutouts.
And by making several key stops in New Hampshire's 3-2 semifinal win over top-seeded Cornell on Thursday, Ayers erased any lingering memories of last year's semifinal performance in which he allowed seven goals in a 7-2 loss to Maine.
"That's over and done with. He won," Umile said, referring to questions Ayers has faced since the end of last season. "He won that battle. Now he's going to put on his best performance."
With a lineup of seven seniors and eight juniors, the Wildcats present a balanced attack. Their offense, which averages 3.8 goals a game, ranks 11th in the nation, and their defense, which allows 2.2 goals a game, ranks third.
New Hampshire, however, will be without its leading scorer, Lanny Gare, who dislocated his shoulder in the Wildcats' 3-0 win over Boston University in the tournament quarterfinals.
The Gophers have been a work in progress all season, leaving Lucia pleasantly surprised to find Minnesota back in the championship game.
"Sometimes we shake our heads that we're still playing," Lucia said. "I don't know if you can classify us as a great team. I think we're a good team that just finds a way to win."
Minnesota lost a large core of last year's team, including Jordan Leopold, last season's Hobey Baker award winner, given to college hockey's most valuable player. Minnesota also lost John Pohl and Jeff Taffe, respectively the nation's first- and second-leading scorers, and senior goaltender Adam Hauser.
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