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Big Ten Tournament Champs

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Michigan defeats Minnesota 5-3 to win their first Big Ten Tournament Championship

Joe Wolke

All of the storylines had been written for this game. The Gophers and the Wolverines had split the regular season series 2-2-0. Minnesota beat Michigan in the title game last year to keep the Wolverines out of the postseason and now Michigan had a chance to end the season for the Gophers and earn their first tournament title.

The game turned out to be everything I expected and more.

It was a tale of two periods to start the game. Tyler Motte drew first blood midway through the first period taking the puck all the way down the ice and giving to Connor who threw a puck on net that was rebounded back to Motte.

The Wolverines stuck again to begin the second on another power play jammed home by JT Compher.

With their season on the line the Gophers would fight back when Vinni Lettieri danced his defender and found Leon Bristedt alone in front of Steve Racine to get on the board.

The controversial play that tied the game came four minutes later when Steve Racine took a bump from a Minnesota player and fell down. While Jake Bischoff spun around the back of the net Racine couldn't get back up so he tried, in vain, to scoot back into the crease and dive across to make a save. There was no doubt he was interfered with which should have blown the play dead but the officials determined after review that Racine had enough time to get back up and counted the goal.

There was blood in the water for a Minnesota team fighting for their postseason lives and you could feel the pressure cranking up as the Wolverines tried to get out of the period with the game still tied.

But the Gophers would strike again on a power play of their own. Minnesota would sustain offensive pressure for over a minute keeping the Michigan penalty killers from getting off the ice. Gassed penalty killers and JT Compher without a stick made it easy for the Gophers to find twine and make it a 3-2 game.

This team has taken on the mantra of Dickie Moore Hockey. They play a pretty game but this team will scratch, claw and will their way to win a game if they have to.

That resiliency showed tonight.

Three minutes into the third with Minnesota in control of the game JT Compher followed a puck from around the back of the net and into the corner. He never looked; five strides before Compher reached the puck he knew where he was going when he got it and the second the puck touched his stick Compher turned and flung it across to Kyle Connor sitting alone in front of Eric Schierhorn. Connor went backhand-forehand dropping Schierhorn to his knees as the bewildered goaltender could do nothing but watch as Connor pulled the string on him and went around to dunk the puck in the open net.

With five minutes left the tie breaker came from Zach Werenski. He's not usually a slap shot guy but when Compher found him creeping in from the point Werenski launched a clapper through a mass of bodies and by Schierhorn.

With the end of their season in sight the Gophers pulled the goaltender to no avail as Tyler Motte sunk the empty netter to make it 5-3 and seal a Big Ten Tournament Championship.

The upperclassmen on this roster, especially the seniors, have been through everything with this program. They stuck it out through ups-and-downs. Where these players end up whether it be pro hockey or something else when they come back to Yost there's going to be a banner in the rafters that they earned.