The image on the projection screen flickered, and the livestream of the NCAA hockey tournament selection show disappeared from in front of the Canisius College hockey team.
There was some momentary panic inside Canisius’ science hall commons area, as the Golden Griffins anticipated their next destination.
“We’re literally waiting for this!” one of Canisius’ players exclaimed, in an exasperated tone.
Some minor agony ensued before the livestream was quickly restored. Even though the Griffs knew they were in the NCAA Tournament, less than 24 hours after winning the Atlantic Hockey Association championship and earning an automatic bid to the 16-team tournament, they wanted to be sure whom they were facing, when and where.
The news came quickly. The task is now at hand. The Golden Griffins now prepare to face the proverbial giant.
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Canisius (20-18-3) will open the NCAA Tournament as the No. 16 seed, against No. 1 Minnesota (26-9-1) at 9 p.m. Thursday at Scheels Arena in Fargo, N.D.
“It’s having the opportunity to play for a national championship,” said Erik Urbank, a fifth-year transfer from Dartmouth and a Nichols School graduate. “I think that’s really cool, having the opportunity to play the No. 1 seed in the country. Not a lot of people can say that, especially from our conference, to play the best team in the country and have the chance to play the spoiler.”
The response to the announcement was immediate, but not overwhelming. There was a round of applause and a few cheers, but no ear-shattering roar. There's work the Griffs need to do.
“We’re going there with the objective to win,” Canisius coach Trevor Large said. “We’re not going for the experience. We’re not going there for fun. Those things will all be there, and we’ll have those things, but we’re going there to win two hockey games and to get to a Frozen Four. I know we have a very motivated group. I know we have an experienced, older group, but, honestly, it’s not going to take a lot of convincing to make sure that’s what our mindset is.”
Minnesota is one of college hockey’s blue-blood programs, having won five national championships – its most recent in 2002 – and having made 22 Frozen Fours, including the 2022 Frozen Four.
The Golden Gophers have a pair of Sabres draft picks in its lineup: defenseman Ryan Johnson, whom the Sabres took at No. 31 in 2019, and center Aaron Huglen, a fourth-round pick at No. 102 that year.
Minnesota boasts one of college hockey’s top lines in Logan Cooley, Matthew Knies and Jimmy Snuggerud – they’ve combined for 142 points (60 goals, 82 assists), and Cooley and Snuggerud are fourth (52) and fifth (49), respectively, in the nation in points.
Snuggerud’s father, Dave, played for the Sabres from 1989-92 and was on the 1988 United States Olympic team. Logan Cooley's older brother, Eric, played hockey at Niagara from 2017-21.
It’s also only the second meeting between the Golden Gophers and the Griffs. Minnesota defeated Canisius 1-0 on Oct. 28, 2012, at Mariucci Arena in Minneapolis.
Minnesota State and St. Cloud State will play in the early game of the Fargo regional at 5 p.m. Thursday, and the Canisius-Minnesota winner will face either the Mavericks or the Huskies in a regional championship game Saturday in Fargo for a berth in the Frozen Four, scheduled for April 6-8 at Amalie Arena in Tampa, Fla.
The 16-team tournament begins with first-round games Thursday and Friday at four-team regionals in Fargo, Allentown, Pa.; Manchester, N.H. and Bridgeport, Conn. The winners of the four regionals will advance to the Frozen Four. Denver is the defending national champion, and faces No. 4 Cornell at 5:30 p.m. Thursday in the Manchester, N.H. regional.
This is the first time since 2013 that the Griffs have made the NCAA Tournament, and only the second time in program history.
That year, Quinnipiac defeated Canisius 4-3 in a first-round game in Providence, R.I.; Quinnipiac lost to Yale in the 2013 national championship game in Pittsburgh.
Canisius’ return to the NCAA Tournament took 10 years, but rather than looking back at what brought them to this point, the Griffs are turning their focus to Thursday and to the Golden Gophers.
“There’s an excitement that’s there,” Large said. “Really, nobody in the room has been through an NCAA Tournament, or a selection show, when your name is being called, so it’s new for everybody in the room. And you can feel it with the group, it goes from that excitement to a pretty quick focus.”
It also comes with a new designation.
“I guess everyone sees us as the underdogs, right now,” Griffs senior defenseman David Melaragni said. “But we know we’re a lot better than people think, and we’re going to prove it, the first day out there.”