The Minnesota Golden Gophers will once again see if they can find that first elusive home sweep on the season when they host the Michigan Wolverines in a huge Big Ten hockey series this weekend at Mariucci Arena. The Gophers and Wolverines are nearly deadlocked in the Big Ten standings with the Gophers holing a three point lead on Michigan for third place in the conference with the Wolverines having one game in hand. This week can go a long way to shoring up a home weekend for the Big Ten tournament, or making sure that one of the teams will have some serious work to do in the last month of the regular season.
The Gophers enter the weekend off of another home split last weekend against the Wisconsin Badgers. Minnesota scored copiously and late in the third period to get a 9-4 win on Friday night before losing that scoring touch on Saturday and watching Wisconsin storm back for a 4-3 split.
Tyler Sheehy had a great week Minnesota leading the nation with seven points—hopefully he can remain hot for the Gophers against another team he has had scoring success against. Sheehy has 17 career points in 15 games against the Wolverines. He is one of three Gophers who average more than one point per game against Michigan. The other two are Rem Pitlick who has 11 points in 10 games and Tommy Novak who has 13 points in 11 games. Minnesota will hopefully have Sammy Walker back this weekend after he was held out of last Saturday’s game with potential concussion related symptoms after taking a slash to the helmet after scoring in the 3rd period of the blowout win over Wisconsin.
Mat Robson will most likely continue to see the playing time in the Gopher net. He is 1-0-1 all-time against Michigan after playing both games in Ann Arbor against the Wolverines in December. The Gophers tied Michigan 2-2 on Friday and lost the extra conference point in double OT, and came back to win 4-3 on Saturday. Robson was outstanding making 34 saves on Friday and 47 on Saturday to earn the Gophers four points.
The Wolverines come into the weekend after splitting a pair of games against Penn State last weekend. The Wolverines won in Ann Arbor on Thursday night before losing in the Big Ten Super Saturday Game at Madison Square Garden Saturday night.
Offensively the Wolverines are led by a future NHL defensemen. Quinn Hughes has 23 points to lead all scorers and missed several games to play on the US World Junior Team. The Wolverines have four forwards who all lead the team with ten goals in Will Lockwood, Josh Norris, Jake Slaker and Nick Pastujov. Lockwood has scored in each of the last four games for Michigan so it will be key for the Gophers to try and keep him off the score sheet. Minnesota will need to try and shut down these high powered forwards as the rest of the Michigan offense takes a significant step down from there.
In net the Wolverines have struggled. Strauss Mann and Hayden Lavigne have split time nearly evenly. Their goals against averages are nearly identical, Mann at 2.93 and Lavigne at 2.92, as are their save percentages—.896 for Mann, and .893 for Lavigne. Both goalies will most likely get one night of action this weekend with Mann probably getting the friday nod after replacing Lavigne in their most recent loss to Penn State.
Special Teams Once Again Will be Key:
The Gophers will try and have the same success on the power play this weekend that they did against the Badgers. Minnesota was 6-9 on the power play and 3-3 on the penalty kill. That’s huge. Minnesota now leads the Big Ten and ranks fifth in the nation on the power play with a 25.8% success rate and have scored a power-play goal in five straight games and eight of the last 10. The Gopher penalty kill continues to shine leading the Big Ten at a 83.7% success rate and has not surrendered a goal in seven of the last eight games.
The Wolverines are not as good on special teams with just an 18.2% score rate on the power play and an 80.7% success rate on the penalty kill. Minnesota will need to take advantage of these numbers to win this weekend.
Wait....There is Hardware Up For Grabs?
Yep. Michigan and Minnesota play for the Mariucci/Renfrew Trophy annually. It goes to the team that wins the season series between the two schools. Michigan currently has possession after sweeping the season series from the Gophers last year, but with their win and tie in Ann Arbor the Gophers can make sure the trophy stays in Minneapolis with just one win this weekend.
Probably a split. Just because.
HOW TO WATCH
Michigan Wolverines at Minnesota Golden Gophers
Where: Mariucci Arena, Minneapolis, Minnesota
When: 7PM Friday/Saturday
TV: Fox Sports North +
Radio: 1130 AM/ 103.5 FM/ I Heart Radio App