By James Garrison
The stage is set.
The Michigan Wolverines made their travel plans official with a 2-1 overtime victory Sunday evening over the Penn State Nittany Lions. Mackie Samoskevich’s thrilling winner finalized the field of four that will be competing for the national title next weekend.
On Thursday, April 6, The Boston University Terriers and Minnesota Golden Gophers will face off for the early semifinal match, with puck drop set for 5:00pm. The Wolverines and the Quinnipiac Bobcats will provide the nightcap.
This afternoon, each teams’ head coach spoke with the media. Here’s what they had to say.
Brandon Naurato – No. 2 University of Michigan (26-11-3)
Even though Michigan will be making its second straight appearance in the Frozen Four, it’s a new face behind the bench for the Wolverines. After serving as an assistant coach last year, Naurato is keeping things light ahead of next weekend.
“I think it’s just playing your best hockey at the right time,” Naurato said. “I told the guys at the beginning of the year, and I think it still rings true, that it’s not the most talented teams that win at the end. It’s the teams that play together, it’s the teams that are the closest, and we’ve got a really tight team. We’ve had this business approach going into the playoffs this year and what we do on the road. I would tell them to have fun, don’t put too much stress on yourself. Enjoy the ride, enjoy the process and let’s just make the most of the opportunity.”
Naurato expanded on the tightness of the group and the confidence that brings.
“We’ve had some success, but just the preparation every day, like everybody works hard,” Naurato said. “When you believe that you could do it and have a chance, that’s confidence.”
Rand Pecknold – No. 3 Quinnipiac University (30-4-3)
It will be Pecknold’s third appearance as the Bobcats’ head coach in the Frozen Four. The Bobcats have the talent to set them over the edge this year, namely with Colin Graf and Yaniv Perets.
“I wanted to make sure [Graf] came in and over the summer he spent some time with his teammates and got acclimated in our weight program and in our culture,” Pecknold said. “I think the biggest thing that Colin has done this year is worked on his defensive side of the game…when you do that and you hunt pucks better, you get to play more offense.”
“[Perets is] committed to his craft,” Pecknold added. “He’s worked on his puck handling, he tracks the puck well. He battles, he competes and just has elite goalie IQ. That’s probably the thing he does best.”
On the other side, Pecknold and the Bobcats are making Luke Hughes a point of emphasis, who will be playing in what is likely his final weekend for the Wolverines.
“Honestly, he probably doesn’t need to be in college this year, he could already be in the NHL” Pecknold said. “He’s got that elusiveness that you can’t teach, you can’t teach what he does. We’re gonna have to defend him in waves and know he’s gonna make plays. I think the big thing with any of the high-end kids with Michigan is we’ve got to make them defend… spend some time in the D zone.”
Bob Motzko – No. 1 University of Minnesota (26-9-1)
Of all the heralded stars to be showcased at the Frozen Four, few are more highly touted than Logan Cooley. Motzko praised the freshman sensation not only for his high-end skill, but his next-level competitiveness.
“The greatest skill factor in him is his compete level,” Motzko said. “Any coach would tell you they’d rather put a fire out than start one and we’ve got to put fires out with him. That’s what’s great about him, the more he gets into it, the more he gets his blood going…we tell him, you can go to the edge, but don’t cross the edge.”
After last year’s loss at TD Garden to Minnesota State, Motzko and the Gophers are ready to take the final step to a national championship.
“There’s nothing worse than having to get on a plane and leave,” Motzko said. “You have to embrace it, but you’ve got to keep your focus on what’s in front of you and hopefully there’s a lesson from our guys from a year ago. Just how to stay in the moment, that they can lead…I want them to enjoy and embrace every moment, but there has to be a time where you shut it all off and it’s back to hockey, and it’s back to the task at hand.”
Jay Pandolfo – No. 5 Boston University (27-10-0)
Pandolfo played in the Frozen Four each of the four years he played for the Terriers. Now back again, the first-year head coach has plenty of experience to offer to his players.
“I think they should be proud of the accomplishment and they should enjoy it, but also understand that it’s a very difficult tournament to win,” Pandolfo said. “The margin for error in each game is slim so you have to make sure you’re dialed in and you’re ready to play the right way…the biggest thing is you really can’t beat yourself.”
A major factor throughout the Terriers’ postseason run has been Drew Commesso. The junior goaltender was praised by his coach for finding consistency following an inconsistent regular season.
“There’s no question over the course of the season, [Commesso] wasn’t as consistent as he’d like to be,” Pandolfo said. “It’s something that he’s kind of addressed. Him and I have talked about it, but you know, the last month has been excellent…he has a bit of swagger to his game and I think goaltenders need that.”
Puck drop for the semifinal game is set for 5:00pm with a Miracle-inspired rematch of the Terriers and Gophers, followed by an 8:30pm battle for the last spot in the championship game. We’ll have continued coverage leading up to and throughout the tournament, so be sure to follow along on Instagram @Boston.hockey.blog and Twitter @BOShockeyblog.