The Minnesota Golden Gophers will try to keep up their winning ways this weekend with their first road Big Ten series of the season against the Michigan Wolverines in Ann Arbor. The Gophers come into the weekend ranked #4 in the USCHO.com poll and #2 in the USA Today/USA Hockey Poll. The Wolverines are the team receiving the most votes without being ranked in the USCHO poll.
Minnesota comes into Ann Arbor after a home sweep of Michigan State last weekend. Eric Schierhorn was named the Big Ten’s #1 Star of the Week after allowing just one goal on the weekend backstopping the Gophers to a 3-1 win on Friday and a 4-0 win on Saturday. Schierhorn has allowed one or less goals in five of his last six games. A bigger recap of last weekend’s game can be read here.
Michigan comes into the weekend after a home split with Ferris State. The Wolverines are 5-3 on the season and just 1-1 in the Big Ten after a split against Penn State in Hockey Valley. Michigan has a bit of a new look this season after the retirement of Red Berenson in the offseason. Former Michigan player and assistant and most recently Michigan Tech coach Mel Pearson s the new man behind the bench in Ann Arbor and seems to have rejuvenated the Michigan program. The Wolverines are in the middle of reloading and have two of next years most highly sought out recruits committed to the maize and blue.
This season the Wolverines are led by some familiar names. Junior Cooper Marody leads the team with 12 points on the season. Sophomore Jake Slaker, and seniors Tony Calderone and Dexter Dancs all have four goals on the year. Dancs, Marody and Calderone all play on Michigan’s “DMC Line” The trio tallied 15 points in the split with Penn State two weekends ago and will be key for the Gopher defense to shut down.
In goal, Michigan has been splitting time with a pair of sophomores in Jack LaFontaine and Hayden Lavigne. Both goalies have started four games on the year with LaFontaine having slightly better stats. He has a 2.25 goals against average compared to Lavigne’s 2.45, and has a .927 save percentage compared to Lavigne’s .914. I would expect each goalie to get one game in net against the Gophers this weekend to continue their trend. Minnesota may have to try and get some dirty goals this weekend however. Michigan currently ranks second nationally with an average of 17.88 blocked shots per game, so the open shots from the point are not all going to get through.
The Gophers will see if they can find some better luck in Yost Ice Arena then they have recently. Minnesota went 1-1 in Ann Arbor last year, but Michigan has won five of the last seven games against the Gophers at Yost. Special teams will be key again this weekend. Minnesota shut down the Spartan power-play last week not allowing a single goal. Michigan comes in with a 20% success rate with the extra man this season, so it will be another test for the Gopher penalty kill. Meanwhile, the Gophers power play has still been underachieveing this year. They went 1-4 last weekend but have converted on just 15.6% of their chances this season. The Wolverines come in killing penalties at a 87% clip, so Minnesota will need to buck the stats to pick up some wins.
The Gophers saw some of their players find their way on offense last weekend. Tyler Sheehy scored his first goal of the season and freshman phenom Casey Mittelstadt found a way to get the puck in the net after being snakebitten for a few games. Rem Pitlick continued his good season. He has scored a point in 9 of the Gophers 10 games this year and leads the Gophers with 4 goals and 10 points. Playing on the wing of Mittelstadt can’t hurt. They are getting the scoring depth from their entire roster though. Minnesota has had 15 different goal scorers lighting the lamp this season. Additionally, Minnesota's seven wins this season have all featured a different Gopher scoring a game-winning goal. That kind of scoring depth can definitely help when facing a team with a few shut down defensemen like the Wolverines.
Hopefully Minnesota can get at bare minimum a sweep this weekend to remain on top of the Big Ten standings. It won’t get any easier for them the rest of the season before the Holiday break as they get #5 Harvard at home next weekend, then travel to #6 Notre Dame before coming back home for a series against #7 Wisconsin and finally heading to Columbus for a series at #17 Ohio State to close out the first half of the year.
HOW TO WATCH
#4/2 Minnesota Golden Gophers at Michigan Wolverines
Where: Yost Ice Arena, Ann Arbor, Michigan
When: 6:30 PM Friday and Saturday
TV: Friday—None; Saturday—Big Ten Network
Radio: 1130 AM, 103.5 FM IHeart Radio App