It’s Deja Vu all over again — the Michigan Wolverines (23-11-3) are once again heading to the Big Ten Tournament final to face the Minnesota Golden Gophers at Mariucci Arena. However, unlike last year’s semifinal game against Notre Dame, Michigan did not offer up any drama against Ohio State.
The Wolverines came out FIRING against the Buckeyes — literally — and lit the lamp just 23 seconds in when Gavin Brindley rocketed home a top-shelf shot. If you only glance at the box score, it would appear Michigan just ran away with this one with a massive three-goal first period, however, that wasn’t entirely the case.
Less than four minutes after Michigan’s opening goal, Ohio State tied the game. But interim (I can’t believe I am still typing the word “interim”) head coach Brandon Naurato spotted something that didn’t add up.
He challenged the goal for offsides and after a short review, he was proven correct and the goal was removed. With the hockey gods smiling upon Ann Arbor, the Wolverines got back to work.
Defenseman Seamus Casey launched a nasty wrister between the legs of Ohio State goalie Jakob Dobes to extend Michigan’s lead, and a Mackie Samoskevich redirect seemingly ended this game before the ice had warmed up. Michigan was up three goals with over nine minutes remaining in the first period.
The Wolverines — who have been known to squander big leads — always had an answer in this one. In the second period following Ohio State’s first goal of the game, Michigan responded when Adam Fantilli fired home his first of the night to reaffirm the three-goal advantage.
In the final period, the Buckeyes quickly found the back of the net again to cut the lead to two goals, but Michigan’s Jackson Hallum would have none of it. Immediately following a Frank Nazar faceoff win, Hallum gathered the puck and fired home a shot before Dobes could even blink.
Ohio State again cut into Michigan’s three-goal lead with just under five minutes remaining, but as they had done all night, the Wolverines responded.
Michigan scored not one, but two empty-netters to ice this one away and secure a 7-3 victory. The Wolverines played with a sense of urgency that fans have not seen in a long time. Michigan was decisive, disciplined, and dominant in its first single-elimination Big Ten Tournament game.
Next up is a team that has demonstrated that urgency all season and has earned the title favorite reputation: Minnesota.
1- Adam Fantilli (2 goals, 2 assists) was not only the best player on the ice tonight, but was also the best college hockey player on the planet last night.
2-Luke Hughes (2 assists) was a team-best +5.
3- Erik Portillo (.921 save percentage) only allowed one even-strength goal and flashed the brilliance that won him the Big Ten Tournament MVP last year.