The Gopher Hockey team goes into the last weekend of the regular season looking to make history. The Gophers need a combination of two points, or two points lost by Michigan to clinch their third consecutive Big Ten Regular Season Championship. That coupled with the two titles they won in the last two seasons of the WCHA would make the Gophers only the second team in NCAA history to win five consecutive regular season conference championships. Boston University in the mid-1990s was the other.
The Gophers will look to win the title against their arch-rivals, the Wisconsin Badgers. The Badgers will be out of revenge however, after the Gophers swept a series in Madison in January than ended up being the worst home series loss in the history of the Gopher/Badger rivalry for Wisconsin. Wisconsin also has nothing to play for, they are locked into the 6th seed in the Big Ten Tournament. The one thing the two teams share is that their NCAA Tournament fate will come down to the Big Ten Tournament next week at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul. No matter how Minnesota does this weekend, an at-large berth is not coming. Sure, there are some slight mathematical possibilities.
But its not happening. So this weekend is for hanging a banner, and pride only.
The Badgers will bring the physicality, that's for sure. In the series finale last season at Marucci, the Gophers and Badgers ended up in a full ice brawl after the latest of a series of cheap hits by Badger players. These hits continued in the series in Madison as Eddie Witchow was kicked out and suspended for three games after a targeted hit on Gopher freshman Tommy Novak. Nate Wells talks about this physicality in his preview for the St. Paul Pioneer Press. Nate also went in depth on the struggles of the Badger program this week, and how they can try and recapture some of their previous success.
As for hanging that banner. The Gophers are currently up 4 points on Michigan. If Minnesota can defeat the Badgers tonight, they will win the Big Ten. If the Gophers win in a shootout....they win the Big Ten. Michigan hosts Penn State in a series at Yost this weekend, with both teams still fighting for the second first round bye in the Big Ten Tournament next week. Minnesota may even know prior to the completion of their game if they are the Big Ten Champions as Penn State and Michigan will face-off at 6:30 tonight. You can follow that game on BTN2GO HERE . A Penn State victory gives the Gophers the title.
A win also improves the chances that the Gophers will be able to play all three seniors tomorrow night on senior night. AJ Michaelson, Ryan Reilly and backup, backup goalie Ryan Coyne all will be honored before the game on Saturday, and if Minnesota has the game in hand on Saturday, Coyne will hopefully see some action. If Minnesota can't put the Badgers away tonight, and Michigan wins...well there will be no special gifts of playing time Saturday.
So...hopefully Minnesota can take care of business, Wisconsin doesn't get too cheap, and we can get both a Battle Hymn and trophy celebration this weekend.
Wisconsin Badgers @ #19 Minnesota Gophers
When: 7:03 PM
Where: Mariucci Arena, Minneapolis, MN
Live Stream: Watch ESPN
Radio: 1500 ESPN
Live Stats: Here