For the first time since 2016, the Michigan Wolverines (28-9-1) will play in the final of the Big Ten Championship Tournament. Standing in their way is a foe they know all too well: the regular season Big Ten Champions, the Minnesota Golden Gophers (24-11).
In four meetings this season, the teams split the contests two games a piece, including 1-1 stalemate in Minneapolis where the game will be played on Saturday.
The Wolverines are fresh off a demon-exorcising victory over Notre Dame. For the first time in five meetings, Michigan was able to topple the Fighting Irish on the strength of their first line scorers and goalie Erik Portillo.
The all-Olympic first line of Brendan Brisson, Big Ten Scoring Champion Matty Beneirs, and Kent Johnson, accounted for both goals in Michigan’s 2-1 victory. Furthermore, Brisson finally broke his no-goal streak since he returned from Olympic participation by netting his sixth game-winner of the season in the third period.
In net, Portillo is coming off one of his best performances of the season where he stopped 19 of 20 shots, including a wicked Notre Dame flurry of 11 shots in the second period.
The Golden Gophers are fresh off a hard fought semifinal victory over Penn State 3-2 and have now won nine games in a row.
Minnesota is paced by Big Ten Player of the Year Ben Meyers with 36 points, but what powered the Gophers to the regular season conference crown was goalie Justen Close.
Close became the full-time starter in January and has posted a 12-3 record since with a .933 save percentage. However, one of those three losses — and his worst loss — came to Michigan in a 4-1 defeat on January 22.
Moreover, the Wolverines are the last team to beat Minnesota in regulation.
The NCAA Tournament Selection show will take place Sunday, March 20, at 6:30 p.m. on ESPNU. While conference champions receive an automatic bid, even the losing team in Minneapolis is expected to be selected among the tournament field of sixteen teams, probably near the top of the seed line.
How to Watch
TV: 8 p.m. EST — Big Ten Network