BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — After winning their first Atlantic Hockey title since 2013, the Canisius Golden Griffins have shifted their focus to the NCAA Tournament, where they’ll meet arguably the most talented team in the field: the No. 1 seed Minnesota Golden Gophers.

The regional semifinal matchup between the 16th seed Griffs (20-18-3) and top-seeded Gophers (26-9-1) is scheduled for 9 p.m. Thursday in Fargo, North Dakota. The ESPN2 broadcast will not only feature Canisius in its second NCAA Tournament appearance, but multiple Buffalo Sabres prospects and NHL first-round draft selections playing for Minnesota as well. However, while it may seem unlikely, a Griffs upset is not out of the realm of possibility.

Here’s what to know and look out for as Canisius seeks to upset Minnesota.

Tale of the tape

As one might expect, Canisius is the underdog heading into the win-or-go-home game.

A large reason the Griffs are in this position is the play of goalie Jake Barczewski, who’s been a brick wall as of late. The senior posted a stellar 1.13 goals-against average and .963 save percentage in seven Atlantic Hockey tournament games en route to being named the Most Outstanding Player. His .925 save percentage on the season ranks tied for sixth in all of Division I men’s hockey.

Another noteworthy statistic is that the Griffs are 16-1-0 this season when leading after two periods, a credit to not only Barczewski and the team’s netminders but their ability to lock down defensively in crunch time.

Leading the way offensively for the Griffs have been forwards Ryan Miotto and Keaton Mastrodonato, who are the only two Canisius players with more than 30 points on the season.

Miotto was arguably the hottest Canisius player in the conference tournament, tallying three goals and six points in seven games. His 17 goals on the season lead the team. Mastrodonato’s 20 assists and 36 points on the year are both team highs. The two seniors were named to the Atlantic Hockey All-Tournament team for their strong postseason showings.

As for Minnesota, talent abounds up and down the roster.

The Gophers boast 14 players who have been drafted into the NHL over the past four years, which includes two first-round picks from 2022 in Logan Cooley (Arizona) and Jimmy Snuggerud (St. Louis) who lead the Gophers in points. Minnesota’s high-powered offense averages 4.08 goals per game, which ranks second in Division I.

Beyond their high-powered offense, they’ve gotten strong goaltending from senior Justen Close, whose .927 save percentage is fifth in the nation.

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How often does the top team get upset?

While Canisius might be the No. 16 team out of 16, the Griffs pulling the upset is not out of the realm of possibility. In the last seven NCAA Tournaments, the top overall seed has been upset by the lowest-ranked squad three times — all of which featured Atlantic Hockey teams winning.

Do the Sabres have any prospects in this game?

Thursday night’s game appeals not only to Canisius students/alumni and college hockey enjoyers, but to Sabres fans as well.

Minnesota has two players in Buffalo’s prospect pool on their roster, both of whom were drafted in 2019. Most notable is former first-round selection defenseman Ryan Johnson, who’s put up four goals and 18 points in 34 games this season.

Forward Aaron Huglen, a former fourth-round draft pick, will also likely be in the lineup Thursday for the Gophers. Huglen has posted six goals and 14 points on the year.

Additionally, Luke and John Mittelstadt, the younger brothers of Sabres forward Casey Mittelstadt, play for Minnesota.

What’s Canisius’ history in the NCAA Tournament?

The Griffs have qualified only once for the NCAA Tournament in 2013 and they failed to win a game, falling to No. 1 overall seed Quinnipiac 4-3 in Providence.

Regarding this year’s matchup, Canisius and Minnesota have met one time before in 2012, which resulted in a 1-0 win for the Gophers.

What’s next after Thursday’s game?

The winner of Thursday’s matchup will advance to the regional final, where they’ll play the winner of Thursday’s other contest in Fargo between St. Cloud State and Minnesota State. That game is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Saturday.

The team that makes it out of the Fargo regional will advance to the Frozen Four, which will begin April 6 in Tampa Bay, Florida.

How can Canisius pull the upset?

If there was ever a time to have a hot goalie, heading into the NCAA Tournament is a great one.

Barczewski’s strong play was been a large reason the Grifffs won the Atlantic Hockey tournament, and while stonewalling the high-scoring Minnesota offense will be a tough ask, it’s not impossible.

If Canisius is able to limit the Gophers’ high-danger scoring chances, as well as pick up a few timely saves from Barczewski along the way, hanging around with Minnesota is plausible. The Griffs have also been incredibly strong defending leads — as evidenced by their record when ahead after two periods. A hot start and snagging a quick goal early in the game could allow them to play more defensive-minded the rest of the way, which they’ve proven has been one of their stronger components this season.

Experience also plays a factor come postseason time, and Canisius is the oldest team by average age in the entire tournament at 23.5 years old, according to College Hockey Inc. On the contrary, Minnesota’s average age is 21.3, tied for the youngest in the tournament.

Basically, it’s going to take a very strong defensive performance and possibly a lucky bounce or two, but a Canisius upset is possible — albeit unlikely.

Adam Gorski is a Buffalo native who joined the News 4 team in 2022. You can find more of his work here.