The Gopher Hockey team closes out the 2016-17 regular season this weekend with a series against Michigan State at Mariucci Arena. The four Gophers seniors will be honored on Saturday night, and they hope to be celebrating their fourth consecutive Big Ten Regular Season Championship. The Gophers need just a combination of three points won, or three points won by Ohio State against Wisconsin to clinch a share for the title, and any combination of four points to win it outright.
Minnesota had an opportunity to put the title on ice last weekend against Michigan in Ann Arbor, but the Gophers slipped up in the Friday night opener losing to the Wolverines 5-3. Minnesota would come back to win 4-1 on Saturday night, and coupled with Penn State’s 7-0 win over Wisconsin gave the Gophers a three point lead on the Badgers in the standings heading into this weekend. Minnesota now needs one win over the Spartans to clinch a tie for the title and the #1 seed in the Big Ten Tournament. Minnesota holds the fourth tiebreaker against Wisconsin due to their 4-0 record against Penn State compared to Wisconsin’s 1-3 record. The first three tiebreakers—total Big Ten wins, head to head, and Big Ten losses all would be even.
If the Gophers do win the Big Ten Regular Season title for the fourth consecutive season, Minnesota would set an NCAA Record for the most consecutive seasons winning a regular season conference championship. Minnesota also won the WCHA in their last two seasons in that league. The six titles would be one more than the record of five titles that Boston University and Minnesota currently share.
The Gophers will look to sweep the season series with Michigan State after Minnesota took the first two games in East Lansing back in December. The Spartans are in last place in the Big Ten with a 7-22-3 record. Mason Appleton leads the team in scoring 29 points and 11 goals on the season. But hope may be on the horizon for the Spartans as their next three top scorers are all freshmen in Taro Hirose, Sam Saliba, and Patrick Khodorenko. In net, MSU has been splitting time recently between Ed Minney who lost both games to the Gophers earlier in the season and John Lethemon who started both games against Ohio State last weekend. Both goalies have goals against averages ov above 3.6 and save percentages near 88%. Not great.
Minnesota is still riding the great season put together by Tyler Sheehy. His Big Ten leading 52 points is also good for a tied for 6th in the NCAA and is the most points recorded by a Gopher since Ryan Potulny in 2005-06. He leads the nation with 38 even strength points.
But this weekend will be all about honoring the Gophers six seniors—four whom have stepped up in huge roles this season.
Mitch Rogge has not played in a game for the Gophers since transferring in from Sacret Heart after his freshman season, but from all accounts is a great practice teammate.
Connor Reilly is the ancient member of the squad. The 25 year old senior who has struggled with injuries is a player who leads by example. His seven points this season are all assists, and he does not have the power on his shot that he did his sophomore season before he injured his knee for the second time, but Reilly has always led by example for the rest of the team.
Taylor Cammarata has come up big the last few weeks stepping into a larger role since Minnesota lost Tommy Novak to injury. Cammarata has filled in well at center on the Gophers third line and has tallied 18 points this season.
Jake Bischoff has really come into his game the last few years and is now one of the best defensemen in the Big Ten. His 29 points lead all defensemen in the Big Ten and ranks ninth in the nation. His 80 blocked shots ranks second in the Big Ten and is one reason why the Gophers penalty kill has improved greatly since the early part of the season. He enters the weekend with an eight-game scoring streak.
Vinni Lettieri has had the biggest jump from his previous years as a Gopher to his senior year. He has career highs in points with 35 and goals with 18. His leadership in centering the Gophers second line has really shown and as he has grown as a player, the Gophers have grown as a team.
Justin Kloos has given a ton to the Gopher program. A two-year captain, Kloos leads all Big Ten active players in scoring and ranks third in te NCAA active players with 148 career points. He now ranks in a tie for 28th all time in scoring Gopher history with Ken Yackel Sr. and Don Micheletti. His 17 goals on the season are a career high, and he needs just two points to tie his career high set last season. The leadership Kloos has shown in the locker room and in getting this team to play as a team has been remarkable. He will go down as one of the best captains in Gopher Hockey History and will sorely be missed.
The six seniors will be honored before their last game at Mariucci Arena Saturday night. That game will also be the 500th game all time played by the Gophers in the “new” Mariucci Arena. Minnesota has a 323-148-47 all-time record in the 24 seasons they have played in their current arena. There have been eight regular season championship winning teams that have played at Mariucci during that stretch—and this team will hopefully make it a ninth this weekend.
HOW TO WATCH
Where: Mariucci Arena—Minneapolis, MN
When: 6:30 PM Friday, 7:00 PM Saturday
TV: ESPNews (Friday), Fox Sports North Plus (Saturday)
Radio: 1500 ESPN