PHILADELPHIA -- After being graced by luck less than 24 hours earlier, the Minnesota Golden Gophers attending Friday’s media availability at the 2014 NCAA Division I Men’s Frozen Four didn’t shy from another talisman.
Head coach Don Lucia and players Nate Condon, Jake Parenteau and Kyle Rau found another press-conference attendee already present when they arrived at the Wells Fargo Center interview area -- Marvin the Martian.A stuffed version of the cartoon character, its Trojan helmet barely visible above the press-conference table, sat propped at the last seat. Condon grinned and pointed at it.
The Gopher who settled next to Marvin -- Rau -- also grinned then patted the character’s plush head. Moderator Dave Fischer encouraged Rau to introduce himself to Marvin.
“Kyle,” Fischer said. “Meet Marvin.”
Or something to that effect. The interplay was breezier considering Minnesota’s national-semifinal victory against North Dakota on Thursday night. Senior defenseman Justin Holl’s goal with less than a second remaining propelled Minnesota into Saturday’s national championship game against Union (N.Y.), winner of Thursday’s earlier semifinal against Boston College.
The title game, set for 7:30 p.m ET, pits top-ranked Minnesota against third-ranked Union. They are the two highest-ranked teams to meet in a Frozen Four finale.
Minnesota seeks its sixth NCAA title.
“I just want our guys to be in a situation tomorrow where they feel they can play free,” Lucia said. “That they can play to win and play aggressively. Because if you're going to play on your heels this time of year, it's awfully difficult to win.”
Call Holl’s goal luck or magic -- a little of both may be unavoidable at this level -- but he made a heady play, trailing the Gopher’s last regulation rush to corral a rebound and propel it past North Dakota goalie Thatcher Demko for the 2-1 victory. It was his first score of the season, a popular topic in the Minnesota locker room, where Condon, a senior forward, had called out Holl and Parenteau before Thursday’s game for not having scored in 2013-14.
Now, the pressure shifts to Parenteau, also a senior defenseman, to supply the heroics
“I’m more than happy that Justin took the cake on that one,” Parenteau said Friday. “That was a big goal and I'm glad he got it. But I've still got one more game, so we'll see what happens.”
Minnesota (28-6-6) seeks its first NCAA title since winning back-to-back championships in 2002 and '03. The Gophers are in their third Frozen Four since that two-year run.
And they’ve seen Union once before, in the Mariucci Classic, an annual early season tournament hosted by Minnesota. Union beat the Gophers 3-2 in overtime of the 2010 Mariucci Classic, a loss that prompted premonition for Lucia.
“In that game I said, ‘you know what, that's a darn good hockey team,’” Lucia said of Union. “Then they went on that run the last few years and they've been tremendous.”
A day away from a championship, both teams likely look inward. Game video and scouting reports are necessary, but reaching too far back -- attempting to grouse over a four-year-old overtime defeat -- serves no purpose.
It’s off-your-feet, rest-up and mind-one’s-own-business time.
“Us being seniors makes it even that much more special,” Condon said. “It's a last shot at everything. That's kind of what is expected at Minnesota, is that we make this game. I think that it's big for our class coming in that when we were freshmen, we kind of struggled. Now to be seniors and kind of hitting the top of where we can reach here, it's really great for us to think that we maybe had that kind of success while we've been at the program.”
And, levity to go with it.
“I was wondering who that was, or what that was,” Rau said of Marvin the Martian, the character stoically silent as Rau, Condon, Parentheau and their head coach waxed philosophical.
For the record, Marvin has been “official” media mascot for the Division I Men’s Frozen Four since 1999, per Fischer. The character wears credentials from each event around his plush, multicolored neck, but isn’t talkative.
“He didn’t say anything,” Rau said, grinning. “He’s pretty quiet.”