The Michigan Wolverines (23-11-3) are back for more in the Big Ten Tournament, and once again they have to go through Minnesota (26-8-1) on the road to claim the tournament crown.
Last season, Michigan took home the title in Minneapolis following a 4-3 defeat of the regular season champion Gophers and will look to replicate that success tonight. However, despite similar circumstances, these two teams are vastly different than a year ago.
Fueled by a Frozen Four run last year, Minnesota has not only been the best team in the Big Ten this season but also the best team in college hockey, and is currently locked into the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Michigan — also fresh off a Frozen Four appearance last season — entered this year inundated with questions. How would the team replace half its roster including four of its six starters? How would interim head coach Brandon Naurato perform in place of Mel Pearson?
While it was shaky at times this season, the Wolverines have earned the last No. 1 seed (fourth seed overall) in the NCAA Tournament and will look to repeat as Big Ten Tournament champs.
In the two healthy meetings — Michigan’s roster was depleted by a dangerous outbreak of an adenovirus during the first two meetings at Yost — between the teams this season, the victories were split, with both games being decided in overtime.
Combined, the two teams account for nine of the 12 first and second-team All-Big Ten players, the conference’s player of the year (Matthew Knies), defenseman of the year (Brock Faber), coach of the year (Bob Motzko), freshman of the year (Adam Fantilli), and all five members of the All-Freshman team (no goalie was selected).
The game tonight could serve as a Frozen Four preview and in order for Michigan to claim another victory against the Gophers, it will need to be close to perfect.
KEYS TO THE GAME
- Neutralize Minnesota’s top line. Minnesota’s top line of Logan Cooley, Matthew Knies, and Jimmy Snuggerud is the best line in college hockey. The trio has combined for 59 goals and 79 assists on the season. The Wolverines have better scoring depth spread throughout their four lines, but mitigating the damage of Minnesota’s first line is paramount to slowing down the high-flying Gophers.
- Stay out of the penalty box. Minnesota scored three power play goals in the last two meetings against the Wolverines, including a game-winner in OT. Michigan was very disciplined against the Buckeyes last weekend only committing three penalties and will need to employ a similar strategy to prevent unnecessarily generating any momentum for the Gophers’ top scorers.
- Finish, finish, finish. The Wolverines blew consecutive third period leads in their last two games against Minnesota leaving them with three points on the weekend instead of six. Points are a moot point now, but finishing games is not. Michigan must keep its foot on the gas and avoid playing timid hockey in order to correct its late-game mistakes.
WHEN: Saturday, March 18, 8 p.m.
WHERE: 3M Arena at Mariucci, Minneapolis, MN
HOW TO WATCH: Big Ten Network
HOW TO LISTEN: Varsity Podcast Network