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April 5, 2017

Ted Donato

Luke Esposito

Sean Malone

Alexander Kerfoot

Chicago, Illinois

THE MODERATOR: Coach, whenever you're ready, why don't you give an opening statement here.

COACH DONATO: Well, I'd just like to say we're excited to be here. So far, it's been a great experience. Chicago's just a tremendous city, and the United Center is such a great venue for the tournament.

We're excited about being at the Final Four.

THE MODERATOR: Thanks, Coach. We'll take some questions for the student-athletes now.

Q. Alexander and anyone else can jump in after, if you want. Anything different that you guys are doing now compared to a regular game to calm your nerves with the big stage?
ALEXANDER KERFOOT: No, I think we're trying to treat it like any other game, obviously. It's really exciting to be here at the Final Four. It's our goal all year long. Especially us three being seniors, it's pretty exciting just to end our college careers here.

I think, if we get too caught up in everything else, we won't be as focused on our game. Obviously, we still have a lot of work to do. So we're just trying to treat this like any other weekend.

THE MODERATOR: Sean or Luke, anything to add to that?

STUDENT-ATHLETE: I'd like to add we've played in really big games this year with the Beanpot and ECAC tournament and things like that. I think we could use our experience there and know that we have to come out playing our game hard right away.

It's just something we've incorporated all year. I wouldn't treat it as -- I would treat it as like any other game.

Q. For any of you guys, first time stepping on the United Center, just what was practice like today?
STUDENT-ATHLETE: I mean, it's really nice to get out there the day before the game and get a feel for the rink. It's super exciting just seeing how big it is. We played in a couple of NHL buildings, the MSG and then obviously the Garden back home. So we kind of got a sense for that in those games.

There's something about this rink, but it actually holds people. You can tell looking at it seems a little bigger. It was fun to be out there and be in front of all that and just kind of soak it all in because once tomorrow starts, it's a little more business-like. So you don't quite get a sense of it all.

THE MODERATOR: Thank you. You guys can head back. Take questions for Coach Donato, please.

Q. Ted, it's been a number of years since you've been involved in a Frozen Four. How much has the whole spectacle of the event changed? How have you kind of worked with the kids to kind of manage that this week?
COACH DONATO: Well, I think it certainly has changed over the years. The coverage -- you know, everything from television to print to online. There are a lot of things in the world that have changed. It's been quite a while.

But I think the guys mentioned it. We're really trying to enjoy it, but at the same time, really kind of remove the noise and really just try to focus on the task at hand.

A lot of people have asked me about comparing the 1989 team I was on and this team. The only thing I've mentioned really to the guys was that I think that team came with a purpose and with a confidence that we could go to the Final Four and win. I think that's really been our mindset. Obviously, there's great hockey games left, and we respect that, but I think we want to really focus on our game.

In this one-and-done scenario, you really can't afford to chase the game or not be at your best. We want to dictate the tempo and really get to our game as quick as possible.

Q. A lot has been made of your team's scoring ability, but you guys have been pretty sound defensively as well. What's been the strength of your team, you feel defensively, and how much of that has fueled what you guys are able to do scoring-wise?
COACH DONATO: Yeah, I think we're up to maybe third in the country now and goals against. I think it's something that the group takes great pride in.

Obviously, our goaltender is a big key to that, our defense. But I think we really want to use our speed to be quick -- you know, quick to defend, quick to break the puck out, and really play to a tempo that we're comfortable at and can play at.

Obviously, at this time of year, you look at it, these teams are all great defensively. You look at Hunter Miska has been sensational in that. So at this time of year, you expect to have to play in tight games, and while it's great that offensively we've had a productive season, we know that we have to be prepared to win a 1-0 hockey game if that's what comes at us.

So I think we're capable of playing some good defense as well.

Q. Ted, I know you've been asked this question a hundred times, but now at this stage, the Johnsons in the '70s, the Clearys in the '80s, and now the Donatos, father and son. What's been special about getting to this particular point, and how do you handle the challenges that come with that?
COACH DONATO: I don't think I, quite honestly, spend a lot of time thinking about it. It's really been kind of team focused. You know, I am very happy for Ryan and proud of the way he's playing. I'm also very proud of the way our team, most importantly, is playing.

I think it may be something at the end of the season, you know, whenever the sun might come out here, you might sit back and really appreciate what a great life experience it's been for both of us to be able to be part of a great season to this point.

But at this point, I really haven't thought much about it or put it all in perspective. I think right now we're just in the moment and worrying about how the team performs.

Q. Does Minnesota-Duluth remind you of any team you faced in the ECAC or maybe in your other nonconference games?
COACH DONATO: I think they're a very impressive team. I think they're extremely well coached. I think they have great balance. When you think of such a storied college hockey program and you think with all the great players and the great teams they've had, and to think this is the team with the least amount of losses, it's really quite impressive.

Winning the NCHC tournament championship -- you know, this is a team we have a lot of respect for. As far as comparing them to the ECAC, I'm not sure there's one team, but I think they have elements, positive elements from a few teams. I think they have some size and strength and defensive prowess, kind of like Cornell at times, and certainly up front I think they have some play makers, and they have some size and strength as well. I think their goaltender is playing as well as anybody in the country.

So we have to be prepared to really finish our opportunities because he's pulled a rabbit out of his hat quite a few times here down the stretch.

Q. You mentioned earlier trying to kind of ignore the noise. These guys mentioned trying to treat this as any other weekend. To play devil's advocate, do you think that's actually possible when you get to a stage like this that's the biggest in college hockey?
COACH DONATO: Honestly, no, it's not possible. They're not practicing at the United Center every day or in a great city like Chicago. They understand the opportunity that's in front of them.

You know, I think there are certainly different challenges that they might not see at other times in the year, but I think they did mention that they feel like some of the experiences they've had, whether it's playing in the Beanpot or even at Madison Square Garden, you realize that things come fast and furious in those types of games.

This is certainly a different game. I think you can always try to -- in your mind, just think of it as a different game. But we haven't been to the Final Four in a long time. So it's not just another game. But mentally, they're preparing as if it's another big game that they're playing.

Q. You know the old adage about trying to get your guys to become seniors and stay the four years. You and Scott have a fairly predominantly loaded senior team. Do you think this speaks heavily to keeping these kids in school and what it means to get to this particular stage and fulfill two things, get the education and the hockey championships?
COACH DONATO: Well, I think, first and foremost, I think the student-athletes really have to enjoy the whole experience, both being a student and an athlete and put a lot of value on the education that they're receiving. I think both coaches would tell you that there's a lot of development that goes on, and certainly the longer you have players, you see just vast improvement and maturity.

It's been a real important part of our team to have guys that have experience that realize the magnitude of the one-and-done scenario, and I think they've been able to keep us focused and really understand how important each and every moment is in their senior year.

Q. Adam Fox has been able to score at every level from the blue line, but were you surprised at how quickly he adapted to the college game for him to step right in?
COACH DONATO: Yeah, I think we certainly had very high hopes and expectations. However, with the current status of college hockey with older kids, it's becoming more and more of a challenge for these real dynamic 18-year-olds to make an impact. I think the truly elite guys find a way to do it, and I think Adam is so clever, and is so incredible, he's not just relying on the physical tools he has. So he's been a tremendous shot in the arm for our defensive core, and offensively he makes others around him better.

You know, I think we would all have to admit we're a little bit surprised at how successful he's been right away, averaging a point a game, playing in the World Championships. He's had a tremendous year, and we're really happy for him.

Q. Since this is the last question, I'm going to cheat the question and give you a two-parter.
COACH DONATO: Harvard guys.

Q. So obviously, Bill Cleary is around all the time and he has been for quite a while. Have you had a chance to talk to him a little bit down the stretch here as this becomes closer to the reality of a championship? And then dovetailing off of that, you talked last week about a potential speech in the locker room and getting some videos together about what you might want to say before a game like this. Anything from Cleary that you're thinking about that you might want to put into that speech?
COACH DONATO: I think the message is pretty similar. I have had a chance to talk with him after the ECAC championship, and I think a lot of the way he carried himself around the team is certainly what I would hope to emulate.

A real positive guy, upbeat. His players not only worked hard and improved, but had a lot of fun. If you're around Coach Cleary, you realize there's not a lot of things he takes too serious, other than being a great student-athlete.

So I think -- you know, the one thing that keeps coming to my mind is just his ability to really fill our team with confidence, that we could be successful and that we -- that our style of play was -- that it was about us, not about who we were playing.

I think that's a powerful message that we've tried to talk about all season with our team.

THE MODERATOR: Thanks, Coach.

FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports

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