The Gopher Hockey team will begin its postseason run Friday night in the Big Ten Tournament Semifinals against Penn State at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit. The Nittany Lions defeated Michigan 4-1 in a quarterfinal game Thursday night. Minnesota will try and win the Big Ten Tournament for the first time since 2015—the last time the tournament was in Detroit. Unlike last season when Minnesota lost to Michigan in the championship game and missed the NCAA Tournament, the Gophers are safely in the field of 16 this season. Minnesota just wants another piece of hardware to add to the trophy case.
It was a week of awards and honors for the Gopher hockey team this week. Tyler Sheehy was named the Big Ten Player of the Year and is one of the Top Ten finalists for the Hobey Baker Award. Eric Schierhorn was named the Big Ten Goaltender of the Year, and added a Big Ten Third Star of the Week for his performance last weekend against Michigan State. Jake Bischoff was awarded the Big Ten Defensive Player of the year. And all three of those players along with Justin Kloos were named to the All-Big Ten First Team. Vinny Lettieri and Ryan Lindgren were named Honorable Mention All-Big Ten, and Lindgren and Rem Pitlick were named to the All-Big Ten Rookie Team.
The Gophers will look to build on their regular season championship in the playoffs. However, they will be missing a major player the rest of the way. Freshman defenseman Ryan Lindgren will miss the rest of the season after injuring his leg in the Gophers game against Michigan State last Saturday when he was tripped up and crashed feet first into the boards. He will have surgery for his injury and will be good to go for the start of next season. But, he will be sorely missed on the Gopher blue line the rest of the season. Minnesota will put Jack Glover in the lineup to replace Lindgren. Glover has played in 11 games this season for Minnesota after recovering from late summer shoulder surgery. It appears Jack Sadek will be taking Lindgren’s spot in the top defensive pair as he has practiced with Bischoff in that spot all week.
Minnesota will need to get production from all four lines this weekend. The Pitlick, Kloos, Sheehy line has produced in bunches for Minnesota, and the Gophers have gotten great work from the Bristedt, Cammarata, Lettieri line as well. The third and fourth lines have had spurts, but some players have gone into a slump too. Brent Gates, Jr would be nice to have a big weekend from.
Minnesota will face Penn State for the fifth time Friday night. The Gophers swept the season series 4-0 from the Nittany Lions, so you know PSU will want revenge. Additionally, Penn State is still playing for their NCAA lives. Their win over Michigan Thursday night helped them get closer to an NCAA bid, but there are still several scenarios where the Nittany Lions are left out of the field. A win over the Gophers would clinch an at large bid.
Minnesota has not had a tough time dispatching Penn State this season. The Gophers swept at Mariucci by scores to 5-2 and 5-1, and then went to Hockey Valley were they won 6-3 and 4-3 in overtime. The 20 goals in four games this season was the most the Nittany Lions gave up to any Big Ten opponent. Meanwhile, the Gophers shut down one of the more potent offenses in college hockey in four games.
Freshman Denis Smirnov led the Nittany Lions with 43 points this season, and Andrew Sturtz put 21 pucks in the net to lead PSU. Penn State has a great defenseman in Trevor Hamilton, who you may remember said in a press conference prior to the series at Penn State that he was sick of “that Minnesota song”. Gopher fans are hopeful that they can make him hear it several more times Friday night.
The other semifinal pits two teams who the Gophers split the season series 2-2 with. #2 seed Wisconsin got the first round bye while #3 Ohio State had to dispatch Michigan State 6-3 on Thursday. Both teams have potent scorers and goaltenders who are capable of winning a game for their team. it should be interesting to see who will advance. Wisconsin needs to win the Big Ten Tournament, while Ohio State needs at least one more win to feel relatively safe about their at large bid chances.
HOW TO WATCH
Big Ten Tournament Joe Louis Arena—Detroit, MI
When: 3:30 PM
Semifinal #2 Penn State Nittany Lions vs Minnesota Golden Gophers
When: 7:00 PM
Radio: 1500 ESPN