So it’s finally over. The Golden Gophers won the regular season B1G Ten championship outright with an overtime win at Michigan on Friday night. I certainly breathed a sigh of relief, as the championship has felt like an inevitable conclusion for weeks, but I never feel secure about a trophy until it’s on the shelf. Two of four trophy stands have been filled, but much work remains.
Minnesota entered the weekend needing a win or my favorite tie-shootsie-win. For a team vying for a league title, that shouldn’t be too tall an order on any given weekend, even when that weekend occurs in Ann Arbor. We would have to wait a little more than sixty minutes for the victory, but at least we didn’t have to wait until the last day of the season.
What wins championships? Goaltending and timely scoring. As usual, Minnesota got an excellent performance out of Adam Wilcox (Tampa Bay Lightning), who earned B1G Ten Player of the Year and Goaltender of the Year honors from the conference coaches and media after the weekend. The awards are well deserved: a team might score two goals against Wilcox in a game, but they’ll rarely score three. Michigan would only get two first period goals in this one before Wilcox shut the door.
As for timely scoring, who do you look to in crunch time? Why, you look to your first line and your junior Captain and second-team All Big Ten center Kyle Rau (Florida Panthers). Rau has the valuable ability to pop up in the slot with no defenders nearby. On this night, that ability would pot his team a championship.
Perhaps the most valuable of Rau’s traits isn’t his knack for timely scoring (GopherSports.com notes that 40% of his 44 career goals have been game-winners), but his attitude. I think that attitude is embodied in this quote:
"When you come here, you don't come to win conference championships. You come for something else."
I don’t need to break that quote down for you.
For Saturday’s game, The Don decided to rest Wilcox, and the team did not look particularly sharp in front of senior Mike Shibrowski. It was pretty obvious that Minnesota had secured its championship and was playing the last game as a formality. Don’t question The Don’s decision to rest Wilcox and not press too hard during the game. If you do, he’ll just point to his brand new B1G Ten Coach of the Year award and you’ll feel ashamed. Apologize to the Don.
Everyone knows the master plan for the weekend was two-fold: win the championship and get Brady Skjei (New York Rangers) three goals. Done. In reality, I’m going to call those three goals an aberration, but if he wants to keep scoring goals, we’ll take it.
Sophomore defenseman Mike Reilly (Columbus Blue Jackets) also picked up a conference honor as he was named B1G Ten Defensive Player of the Year. Ironically, he won the defensive honor because he’s one of the most dangerous offensive threats in the conference. He’s also one of the most talented puck carriers on college hockey.
It should be noted that both Wilcox and Reilly were named to the All B1G Ten first team, in addition to their personal awards.
So now we’re close to the end our annual hockey journey; it’s tournament time. Keep an on the Daily Gopher as the week progresses for the best Gopher-focused coverage of the B1G Ten tournament.