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NCAA Hockey Tournament 2012: Minnesota Duluth Continues To Defend Their Title

While many teams would prefer to play close to home, the defending national champions Minnesota Duluth hope the travel involved in this weekend's Northeast Region invokes something similar to last year.

The Bulldogs head to the East Coast for the second consecutive year - last year's championship run began in Bridgeport, Connecticut - and face Maine Saturday at 6:30 p.m. in Worcester, Massachusetts. If they win they will face the winner of Boston College-Air Force Sunday for a 2012 Frozen Four berth in Tampa.

Saturday's game will be televised in Minnesota on Fox Sports North Plus.

After beginning this season 1-3 and swept at home by Minnesota, UMD hit their stride and did not lose again until January. They ended the year struggling to find the same consistency but a three-goal comeback against Denver in the WCHA Final Five semifinals before ultimately losing in double overtime showed what the Bulldogs are capable of doing.

This year's Minnesota Duluth team shares similarities to the one that won the school's first national title last year with one of the best offenses in the country. Despite losing Mike Connolly (now with the Colorado Avalanche), Justin Faulk (on the Carolina Hurricanes) and Justin Fontaine (in the Minnesota Wild system), the Bulldogs are tied for the most goals in college hockey and average a nation-leading 3.64 goals per game.

A big reason for their offensive domination has to do with three players crucial to the 2011 championship, Jack Connolly, Travis Oleksuk and J.T. Brown, returning. Each has scored more than 45 points this season, led by Connolly's WCHA leading 58, and he looks to be one of the three Hobey Baker finalists this season.

The Bulldogs also boast goalie Kenny Reiter from last season's team. While Reiter has had his shares of ups and downs this season, he's been an integral player for UMD lately. The last two games Duluth has played have seen the senior make 47 and 45 saves, respectively. He'll be facing another high powered offense or two in Maine and possibly Boston College this weekend so the more Reiter uses the experience learned from being the defending national champion, the better.

Same goes for the rest of Minnesota Duluth team.

For more on the road to the Frozen Four in Tampa, stick with our 2012 NCAA Hockey Tournament storystream. You can also follow Western College Hockey and SB Nation's NHL hub for more NCAA Hockey news.

Photographs by Micah Taylor, clairity, and Fibonacci Blue used in background montage under Creative Commons. Thank you.