It will be a weekend of firsts for the Minnesota Golden Gophers hockey team this weekend. It’s the first time since the creation of the Big Ten Hockey Conference that Minnesota will not play a conference game the last weekend of the season. It’s the first time Minnesota and Arizona State will ever face off on the ice. And it’s the first time in a long time that whatever the Gophers do in the final weekend of the season will have zero effect on what happens the rest of the year. This weekend is all about celebrating the seniors and scoreboard watching for the Gophers.
Thanks to Wisconsin’s win over Penn State last Saturday the Gophers are locked into finishing no worse than fourth in the Big Ten. Thus they will host a first round playoff series next weekend no matter what happens this weekend against the Sun Devils, or in the rest of the Big Ten conference games. Additionally, the Gophers are far enough back in the Pairwise—currently #22 that they have zero chance of an at-large NCAA Tournament bid. The Gophers must win the Big Ten Tournament to make the NCAA Tournament. Meanwhile the Sun Devils are nearly locked into a NCAA Tournament spot. They currently are #8 in the pairwise and even with a Gopher sweep this weekend will still be on the right side of the NCAA Tournament bubble....for now.
So this weekend is really a no pressure situation for the Gophers. Yeah they would love to play well going into next weekend’s must win series, but no matter the outcome this weekend the Gophers situation remains the same. All the Gophers can do is go out and play their best, honor their nine seniors on Saturday night and watch the scoreboard to see just who will be headed to Minneapolis next weekend.
Honoring The Seniors:
The Gophers will honor their nine seniors Saturday night. Some have played huge roles over the past four seasons for the Gophers like Tyler Sheehy and Eric Schierhorn. Others have hardly seen the ice at all like Brock Kautz. But all nine have embodied the Pride on Ice culture that Gopher hockey players past and future have and will again do.
The nine Gopher seniors, Brock Kautz, Jack Sadek, Brent Gates Jr., Jack Ramsey, Tommy Novak, Tyler Sheehy, Ryan Norman, Darian Romanko and Eric Schierhorn have won two Big Ten regular-season championships and are 76-61-9 in their four seasons at Minnesota heading into this weekend. Assuming Norman plays in at least one game this weekend he will be the eighth member of the senior class to play in at least 100 games as a Gopher.
Several of the seniors have had their best seasons this year. Sadek had recorded a point in three of the Gophers last five games and his 16 points this season are a career high. Gates, Jr’s 26 points are just one short of his career high. Sheehy is averaging exactly one point per game over his collegiate career. His 144 points in 144 games place him 33rd all-time in the Minnesota scoring records. Scherhorn has a 58-45-4 career record, which ranks him sixth in school history in wins and fifth in saves at 2,699. His 111 all-time appearances for the Gophers place him fourth in school history behind only Adam Hauser, Kellen Briggs and Adam Wilcox. His 12 career shutouts leave him just one back of the school record shared by Wilcox and Briggs. He will most likely get the start in net on Saturday night while junior Mat Robson gets Friday night’s game.
What About the Sun Devils?
Arizona State makes it’s first ever trip to Mariucci Arena for the independent program’s first ever games against the Gophers. The Sun Devils coming to town this weekend will be the 58th out of 60 College Hockey programs that the Gophers have faced with only Bentley and American International never have played against Minnesota. Arizona State will try and snap the Gophers streak of four consecutive victories in first games between Minnesota and an opponent on Friday night.
Arizona State is in just it’s fourth year as a Division 1 program and looks nearly set to make its first ever NCAA Tournament. They rank #8 in the pairwise and are #11/12 in the two national polls. Their 21-10-1 record this season includes wins over Penn State, Michigan State, Boston College, and Boston University. They lost in a shootout to Ohio State and tied Minnesota State. They have players from all over the world on their roster, but have a local flair with freshman forward Demetrois Koumontzis from Edina. They also have a few names you might recognize like Austin Lemieux (son of Mario) as well. Their best player and leading scorer is sophomore Johnny Walker who has 34 points and 23 goals on the season. His 23 goals lead the nation. He is second in the country with nine power play goals on the season as well—so Minnesota better keep his accounted for when on the penalty kill. The Sun Devils have been riding junior Joey Daccord in net. He has started every game this season for ASU and has a 2.2 goals against average and a impressive .930 save percentage on the season which ranks him sixth in the country.
As a team the Sun Devils average 3.28 goals per game to rank 9th in the nation and give up an average of 2.31 to rank 14th. Meanwhile the Gophers are averaging an even 3.03 goals for, and goals against on the year—good enough for 21st on offense and 39th on defense. While the strength of schedule makes up a lot of this difference, there is no doubt that this ASU team is for real and will give Minnesota all they want this weekend. Minnesota will need to attack on special teams where they Gophers have a significant edge. They rank 6th in the country on the power play with a 25.44% success rate while the Sun Devils are 45th with just a 15.8% success rate. But Arizona State is 9th in the nation on the PK with an 86.43% kill rate while Minnesota is 24th at 82.5%.
What Other Games Should Minnesota Fans Watch This Weekend?
As we said the Gophers games have no meaning on who Minnesota will host next weekend but the other three Big Ten series will. Minnesota currently sits in second in the conference with 36 points. Notre Dame and Michigan are tied for third with 34, Penn State is in fifth with 32, Wisconsin is in sixth with 28 and Michigan State is in 7th with 27 points. Regular Season Champion Ohio State hosts Michigan State, Notre Dame hosts Penn State and Wisconsin hosts Michigan.
All but one of the final six Big Ten games can be watched on tv/stream this weekend. Friday night the OSU/MSU game is on BTN at 5:30 with the MI/WI game to follow at 8. PSU/ ND are on NBC Sports Network at 7 on Friday. Saturday there is no tv for Spartans/Buckeyes, the ND/PSU game streams on nbcsports.com and the MI/WI game once again will be on BTN.
So who is most likely to head to Mariucci next weekend. Unfortunately for Gopher fans the statistically most likely matchup would be against Penn State—who Minnesota has struggled with this season. The best matchup might be for the Gophers to face off against Notre Dame who they are 3-1 against this season, but that would most likely take a Penn State sweep of the Irish in South Bend this weekend to occur. Minnesota holds the tiebreakers against every team they may tie with except Penn State.
The two games to watch are the Penn State/Notre Dame and Michigan/Wisconsin games on Friday. With ND and Michigan wins, the Gophers will be locked in to face the Nittany Lions barring an epic Michigan State sweep of Ohio State. If Penn State or Wisconsin can take some points on Friday it will all come down to Saturday’s games to figure out who will be coming to town next weekend.
HOW TO WATCH
#11/12 Arizona State Sun Devils @ Minnesota Golden Gophers
Where: 3M Arena at Mariucci, Minneapolis, MN
When: 7PM Friday/Saturday
TV: Fox Sports North (Fri), FSN + (Sat)
Stream: Fox Sports Go
Radio: 1130 AM/103,5 FM I Heart Radio APP