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Michigan hockey opens up Big Ten Tournament tonight against Wisconsin

The No. 2 seeded Wolverines will play the No. 7 Badgers at Yost tonight.

Faceoff on the Lake - Michigan v Ohio State Photo by Jaime Crawford/Getty Images

The Michigan Wolverines (20-11-3) secured the No. 2 seed in the Big Ten Tournament last weekend and are scheduled to face the No. 7 Wisconsin Badgers (13-21-0) in the quarterfinals tonight. Michigan has posted a 3-1 record against the Badgers this season — outscoring them 20-14 — including a dominant two-game sweep at Yost last month.

Wisconsin has only won one conference road game all season, which came just last week against Penn State. The Badgers are in a spoiler position because, unlike the rest of the Big Ten, Wisconsin’s only route to the NCAA Tournament is an improbable Big Ten Tournament victory.

The opening round of the Big Ten Tournament is the last scheduled series of the season, with single-elimination hockey taking place the rest of the postseason. Despite this luxury, Michigan cannot fall asleep at the wheel against the Badgers, the only conference team with a regulation win over No. 1 Minnesota since Nov. 10.

Cruz Lucius (10 G, 21 A, 31 PTS), is the offensive catalyst for the Badgers and the second-leading scorer on the team. On the blue line, Corson Ceulemanns is the offensive anchor (8 G, 13 A, 21 PTS), and between him and Daniel Laatsch, the duo has combined to block an outstanding 101 shots.

Goaltender Jared Moe has seen his save percentage drop from .913 to .901 over the last month, so don’t be surprised to see the Badgers turn to backup Kyle McClellan in the Big Ten Tournament. McClellan has only accrued a .890 save percentage on the season but in last week’s win at Penn State, he stopped 47-of-48 shots for a .979 save percentage.

Keys to the Game

  • Blue line chemistry. Michigan is stumbling into the conference tournament with a 0-1-3 record over the last four games. A big reason for this recent slump is the slew of injuries — especially on the blue line — Michigan is dealing with. Starting defenseman Jacob Truscott has been unavailable for over a month; Seamus Casey has missed several games intermittently this season; Ethan Edwards is either dazzling on the ice or watching the game from the locker room after another game misconduct penalty; Luke Hughes just returned in the second game against Notre Dame, but did not look comfortable as he readjusted to game speed. The Wolverines are expected to be close to full strength against Wisconsin, and they will need their full complement of defensemen for this postseason run.
  • Discipline. Adam Fantilli is too smart, talented and valuable to be getting thrown out of games in consecutive series. The book is out on the superstar freshman and teams are looking to frustrate him to a combustion point. Fantilli must keep his composure and not let his absence be the deciding factor in a close game.
  • Swedish consistency. Last season, goaltender Erik Portillo was the Big Ten Tournament MVP and a key proponent fueling Michigan’s Frozen Four run. But entering this weekend, he has been up and down over his last few starts. One minute he is letting in an easy drive from the point, and the next he is spread eagle flashing some highlight reel leather in a big moment. The Super Swede needs to be more consistent if Michigan wants to replicate or improve upon last year’s success. Portillo played his best hockey in the postseason in 2022, so I wouldn’t count him out from doing it again.

If Michigan wins, the Wolverines will host the Penn State/Ohio State winner in the semifinals.

WHEN: Friday, March 3, 7 p.m. / Saturday, March 4, 7 p.m. / Sunday, March 5, 7 p.m. (if necessary)

WHERE: Ann Arbor, MI; Yost Arena


HOW TO LISTEN: Varsity Podcast Network

Looking around the Big Ten Tournament

No. 6 Penn State vs. No. 3 Ohio State

  • Pairwise rankings: Ohio State (No. 9), Penn State (No. 8)
  • Regular season record: 2-2, Ohio State holds a +1 goal-scoring advantage, and the two teams split the games in Columbus.
  • The winner plays the Wisconsin/Michigan winner.

No. 5 Michigan State vs. No. 4 Notre Dame

  • Pairwise rankings: Notre Dame (No. 13), Michigan State (No. 19)
  • Regular season record: Michigan State holds a 2-1-1 advantage but has been outscored by Notre Dame, 8-7, and has not won in South Bend this season.
  • The winner plays Minnesota.