National championship game preview: Quinnipiac set to face Minnesota for first national title


Aidan Sheedy

Quinnipiac’s last national championship game appearance was in Tampa in 2016. The Bobcats fell 5-1 to North Dakota in that game.

Cameron Levasseur, Sports Editor

TAMPA, Fla. — The last time the Quinnipiac men’s hockey team played Minnesota was Dec. 9, 2000. It was a buy game for the Gophers, who shelled the Bobcats 11-2 in Minneapolis. 

“Opening face-off, they win it, the kid gains the red (line), he goes to dump it in, it’s going to go 40 feet wide of the net,” Quinnipiac head coach Rand Pecknold said. “It hits Mike LaRocca’s shaft and goes back this way, knocks the water bottle off, we were down 1-0. I was like ‘you’ve got to be kidding me.”

Quinnipiac head coach Rand Pecknold spoke to the media on Friday ahead of Saturday’s national championship game. (Aidan Sheedy)

In the two seasons that followed that matchup, Minnesota brought home back-to-back national championships. It would be another 13 years before Quinnipiac even appeared in the Frozen Four, a perennial power against a program that was in just its third season of Division I hockey. 

Times have changed since then. The Gophers and Bobcats entered this year’s NCAA Tournament as the No. 1 and 2 seeds, respectively. Minnesota has the nation’s best offense, Quinnipiac the nation’s best defense. In the last decade, the two have the same number of Frozen Four appearances and the same number of national championships, the latter number being zero. 

This is no David vs. Goliath story. This is Goliath vs. Goliath, except one has been painted by the national media as the subpar talent. 

“Being the No. 2 seed, we are technically the underdog,” graduate student forward TJ Friedmann said. “But we’ve worked throughout the year to get to where we are, and when we’re playing our game, we’re just as good as any team in the country, if not better.” 

Both teams are exactly where they should be. 60 minutes (or longer) in front of more than 19,000 fans under the bright lights of Amalie Arena in the national championship game. One writes its name in the history books, the other becomes a note in the margin. It’s the type of game that dreams are made of. 

“Obviously, it’s a lot of excitement getting to the national championship game,” Friedmann said. “But we know that we didn’t come down here just to win one, we came down here to leave with that trophy.”

There’s still a long way to go before a trophy celebration, however. In order to get there, the Bobcats will have to go through the most dynamic team in the country. 

Minnesota maintained a poll position atop the PairWise rankings for basically the entirety of the 2022-23 season, going 29-9-1 into Saturday’s championship game and only having lost consecutive games once over the course of the campaign. 

“You always have dips every season,” Gophers head coach Bob Motzko said. “We haven’t had one. These guys have just been terrific … We have gone all year long with this group, and it’s just been a steady, steady ride, we have not had a hiccup.”

A tremendous top line of sophomore Matthew Knies and freshmen Logan Cooley and Jimmy Snuggerud has been a lightning rod for the Gophers’ offense all season. All have 40-plus points (Cooley and Snuggerud each have more than 50) and the former two were named Hobey Baker hat-trick finalists.

The trio moves the puck like few other lines in the history of college hockey. Their ability to read plays and find each other is off the charts, and each has the individual skill to waltz through an entire defense and score. 

That’s not to mention the other stellar talent Minnesota has on offense. Senior forward Bryce Brodzinski, a Philadelphia Flyers draft pick, has 30 points on the year, and sophomore third-line center Aaron Huglen showcased his skill with a ridiculous between-the-legs assist in the Gophers’ 6-2 win over Boston University in the Frozen Four semifinals. 

Minnesota senior forward Bryce Brodzinski has 19 goals in 39 games this season. (Cameron Levasseur)

“Obviously they’re the No. 1 team in the nation for a reason,” Quinnipiac sophomore forward Collin Graf said. “They have a lot of skilled forwards, they’re very similar to Michigan in the way that they like to play up and down the ice, but they also have a lot of structure to it.”

Minnesota also has the most dangerous blue line in the country, receiving a combined 27 goals and 138 points from defenseman this season. Freshman Luke Mittelstadt had two goals in the Gophers’ semifinal victory Thursday. 

But Quinnipiac has the experience. It has the depth. It has all the tools necessary to be the team skating away victorious Saturday night. 

The Bobcats will look to once again use their strong neutral-zone trap to force turnovers and create transition offense, as they did against Michigan on Thursday. Minnesota has a significantly better defense than the Wolverines, but have fallen off their game for stretches this season, giving opponents the opportunity to bite back. 

No. 16 Canisius led the Gophers 2-1 midway through the second period in the opening round of the tournament, and Quinnipiac is leaps and bounds above Canisius in everything except being difficult to spell and pronounce. 

Puck drop is set for 8:04 p.m. on Saturday as the Bobcats look to bring home their first national title in program history. Seven years ago they fell to North Dakota in the same arena, on the same stage. Only time will tell if this time around is any different.