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Will Gopher men's hockey do enough to reach NCAA tournament?

Don't look now, but Minnesota has cracked the top 16 in the Pairwise.

A few weeks from today the Gophers will find out if they've done enough to be included in the 16-team NCAA men's hockey tournament. Even considering them as a possible tourney team entering the holiday break in December was laughable, as they were a dismal 5-9-5. 

But as soon as Christmas was gone the Gophers turned it on and have gone 9-2-1 since, proving to be one of the hottest teams in the country. 

This weekend's semi-sweep at Notre Dame (earned 5 of a possible 6 points) has the Gophers tied with Penn State (36 points each) atop the Big Ten standings heading into a head-to-head showdown at Penn State this coming Friday and Saturday. 

Minnesota (14-11-5) is not ranked in the USCHO top-20 poll while Penn State is ranked ninth. More importantly, the Gophers are now sitting at 16th in the Pairwise Rankings, which aim to "mimic the method used by the NCAA Selection Committee to determine participants for the NCAA Division I men's hockey tournament."

Talk about being on the bubble. Minnesota could squash bubble talk if they win the Big Ten Tournament in March, or power up the Pairwise by finishing strong against Penn State and Michigan and winning the Big Ten regular season title. 

As it turns out, Penn State is the perfect opportunity for Minnesota to show the selection committee how much they've grown in the past two months. It was the Nittany Lions who came to 3M Arena at Mariucci in mid-November and outscored the Gophers 14-5 in a two-game sweep. 

"I like how we are playing hockey," Gophers coach Bob Motzko said Saturday, via the Star Tribune. "Tonight we were really solid. We want to continue to build on that."

If the Gophers make the tourney they'll likely be one of four Minnesota teams competing for a national championship. Minnesota State (26-4-2) is ranked No. 2 in the Pairwise; UMD (17-9-2) is No. 4 and Bemidji State (18-8-4) is No. 12. 

Sitting atop the college hockey polls and the Pairwise is North Dakota (23-3-3).  

The Gopher women are ranked No. 4 in the USCHO women's poll. They wrap up the regular season next weekend against Minnesota State and then will compete in the WCHA tournament. 

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