The Minnesota Golden Gophers defeated the Michigan Wolverines 4-2 on Saturday in the Big Ten Championship Game, guaranteeing themselves a berth in the NCAA Tournament and eliminating the Michigan from the same.
As has been true during Minnesota's recent hot streak, the Gophers used a potent combination of scoring from their senior class and excellent goal tending from Adam Wilcox (Tampa Bay Lightning) to finish off the Wolverines.
Minnesota came into the game after dispatching Ohio State in crevasse-puckering fashion. Friday night, the Gophers looked extremely tense and like they were trying to force the play for the majority of the night. Saturday, they looked loose and confident, especially in a first period in which they dominated.
Despite completely owning in the puck in the first period and putting 20 shots onto Michigan goalie Steve Racine, the Gophers were not able to build a lead in the first frame.
The first goal of the game wouldn't come until early in the second period, when Travis Boyd (Washington Capitals) fluttered home a one-timer on a power play that knuckled just inside the near pipe before Racine could close the gap.
Michigan struck back quickly as the Big Ten's Legion of Doom Officiating Crew of Steve McInchak and Barry Pochmara magically discovered the ability to call penalties (which was in question throughout the first period) and gave the Wolverines two power plays in the next four minutes of play. On the first, a Michigan skater appeared to step on Vinni Littieri's stick while Littieri was being held against the wall by a defender. Littieri was called for hooking. A couple minutes later, Kyle Rau (Florid Panthers), was called for cross checking on a play in front Wilcox. The calls were so unexpected based on how the rest of the game had been officiated that even the BTN commentators were lamenting the inconsistency.
When a Conference's TV personalities turn on the officiating (meaning they say anything that can be construed as disagreeing with a call rather than fawning over how good the referees are), you know it's bad. Perhaps even more embarrassing than McInchak's and Pochmara's performances was the linesmen's complete inability to determine if a play was onside or manage a fair faceoff.
To their credit, Michigan converted both opportunities to take the lead.
Minnesota's Captain Rau (, the victim of one of the newly discovered penalties, evened the game on a 2-on-1 break midway through the period. On the play, Hudson Fasching (Buffalo Sabres) made a great pass to Rau, who had a gaping goal mouth to work with.
The 2-2 score held until Justin Kloos fired a diving shot past Racine's glove on a power play opportunity halfway through the third period. The play was a great individual effort by Kloos, and the goal would end up the game-winner.
Boyd added a second goal on a clearance from the defensive end of the ice with Michigan's net empty. That goal sealed the game and Minnesota's first Conference Tournament Championship since 2007.
Wilcox finished the game with 24 saves. He was named the Tournament MVP after stopping 63 shots in two games.
Wilcox, Rau, Boyd, and Hobey Baker candidate Mike Reilly (Columbus Blue Jackets) were named to the All-Tournament team, along with Michigan's Zach Hyman and Michael Downing (Florida Panthers).
This was a great weekend of hockey by the Gophers, who weathered a storm against Ohio State in the first game and played an excellent game against a Michigan team which led the nation in scoring. The last eight days, with their whole season on the line, the Gophers answered the bell in each of four games and are riding a wave of momentum into the NCAA Tournament.