The No. 7/8 ranked Michigan Wolverines (13-8-1) are back in action this weekend against the second-ranked Minnesota Golden Gophers (17-6-1). Minnesota is currently in first place in the Big Ten and is the only team to sweep the Wolverines this season. Albeit, it was when Michigan’s roster was ravaged with illness and six key players were unable to play.
Michigan enters tonight’s game with a healthy roster and revenge on the mind. Following their most important win of the season last Saturday over Ohio State, the Wolverines finally have some real momentum behind them.
However, even healthy, toppling Minnesota will require a near-flawless performance on the road. A Frozen Four team a year ago, the Gophers are even better this season. Minnesota is a complete team with lethal goal scorers, a cohesive blue line presence and a reliable goaltender,
Minnesota features the best top line in the country with the trio of Jimmy Snuggerud (29 points), Logan Cooley (28 points) and Matthew Knies (24 points). Behind the strength of this trio and superb blue line play from captain Brock Faber and Jackson LaCombe, the Gophers are considered the biggest threat to knock off the white runaway favorite Quinnipiac Bobcats in the NCAA Tournament.
In net for Minnesota, Justen Close has taken a leap this season and has posted a 14-6-1 record, with four shutouts. His .925 save percentage is the best in the Big Ten and good enough for No. 8 nationally.
Keys to the Series
- Win Game 1. Michigan has lost or tied its first game in a two-game series against five consecutive opponents. The Wolverines hit rock bottom with their game one performance against the Buckeyes last week and must get off to a good start on the road. The Wolverines have not won two straight games since early November — exhibition games not included — and have not swept an opponent since Western Michigan the last weekend of October. If Michigan wants to buck both trends, it starts in game one.
- Defensive patience. The Gophers feast off costly turnovers, especially in the neutral zone. Minnesota’s top line is going to apply pressure, and Michigan has to be patient and communicate on defense. In their first series, the Gophers scored in every period and scored two goals in five of the six periods. With the return of several forwards and key defensemen Jacob Truscott and Jay Keranen for this series, Michigan should be able to hold the Gophers in check for a period or two.
- Trust your lines. Interim head coach Brandon Naurato will make subtle changes for a matchup of this caliber, but he won’t do too much this time. Last weekend in game one, Naurato rearranged his lines to keep the “grind line” facing Ohio State’s top line. The results were disastrous and Naurato adjusted in game two. This game is a great chance for Michigan’s stars to play like stars.
- Limit penalties. This weekend will be emotional for a Michigan team looking to take down the best team in the Big Ten. Furthermore, it is a team that wants revenge for the dirty hit on Eric Ciccolini by Logan Cooley that sidelined Ciccolini for several weeks. It is great to be physical and scrappy as long as Cooley and that explosive Minnesota top line are not rewarded with a power play. Nothing could hurt the Gophers worse than being swept for the first time this season.
WHEN: Friday, Jan. 20, 8 p.m. EST; Saturday, Jan. 21, 8 p.m. EST
WHERE: Minneapolis, MN; 3M Arena at Mariucci
HOW TO WATCH: BIG+ / Big Ten Network
HOW TO LISTEN: Varsity Podcast Network