The #4 Minnesota Golden Gophers hockey team will try and remain hot as they host the Michigan State Spartans in a Big Ten series this weekend at 3M Arena at Mariucci. The Gophers currently have a two point lead in the Big Ten Standings over the Wisconsin Badgers while the Spartans sit in last place. However with the news breaking that Minnesota’s series at Penn State set for next weekend has been cancelled due to COIVID issues with the Nittany Lions, the way the Big Ten standings are set may soon chance. in either case this weekend is a must sweep for the Gophers to keep their hold on first place in the conference and the only bye in the Big Ten tournament in their grasp.
Minnesota comes into the weekend series with the Spartans flying high after a pair of 3-0 wins in a sweep at Notre Dame last weekend. Jack LaFontaine was named the Big Ten’s #1 Star of the Week after becoming the first Gophers goaltender in the program’s modern era to post back-to-back shutouts in a two-game road series, stopping all 52 shots he faced against the Irish. He now is second in the nation with five shutouts on the season.
Sampo Ranta was named the third star of the week after a three point weekend. He scored a goal in each of the two games and his 14 goals on the season rank him second in both the Big Ten and the country only behind Wisconsin’s Cole Caufield. Ranta will be an important part of the Gophers scoring attack this weekend as well as Minnesota will look to keep the Mariucci-Bessone Trophy in Minneapolis. Minnesota swept a series between the two teams in December in East Lansing by 3-1 and 4-2 scores, but it will not be easy to put the puck in the net.
Michigan State’s best plyer is their goaltender in Drew DeRidder. DeRidder is one of the few goalies who have played more than Jack LaFontaine this season as he has played a Big Ten-high 93.5% of his teams’ total minutes this season and leads the nation in both saves (632) and shots faced (678). His .932 save percentage ranks third in the Big Ten, while his 2.43 GAA is fourth best. It’s been needed because the Spartans have not been a scoring juggernaut this season. Mitchel Lewandowski and Josh Nodler each led the Spartans with 10 points on the season. Lewandowski and Charles Combs each have five goals on the season. This is a series Minnesota should have no trouble with as long as they can get the puck past DeRidder...which sometimes has been an issue for the Gophers.
Big Ten Look Ahead?
The Gophers schedule because two games shorter this week when Penn State announced that they and the Gophers had mutually agreed to cancel next weeks series due to COVID issues on the Nittany Lions. Penn State’s series last weekend against Ohio State was also postponed and this week’s series against Arizona State has been cancelled. PSU had allready been two games behind due to missing a series against Michigan when they were on their COVID pause, and now it’s a question whether those games will get made up.
Thus the Big Ten is going to need to adjust how they work their standings. As of now under the current point system the Gophers have a two point edge, 39-37 over Wisconsin with Notre Dame in third with 27 and Michigan in fourth with 26. In theory it should be a two team race for the top spot between the Gophers and the Badgers. The big question is what format will the conference now go to to determine the conference seeding for the tournament. Wisconsin as of now will play two more games than the Gophers as they host Notre Dame this weekend before closing out with the bottom two teams in the standings in the Buckeyes and Spartans. Minnesota will now have an open week next week instead to heading to Penn State and will close out the regular season in two weeks at home against Michigan.
The two likely ways the Big Ten would do the standings due to the uneven game would be by straight wining percentage, or like the women’s WCHA is doing by total point percentage. Minnesota would still lead the conference under both at the moment with a .722 winning percentage to Wisconsin’s .667 and a .722 points percentage to the Badgers .685. If Minnesota goes 4-0 down the stretch, then they can’t be caught. If Minnesota would go 3-1, then Wisconsin would need to go 6-0 to leapfrog the Gophers. Thus, Minnesota just needs to hold serve at home and they will be rewarded. Lose a game and things start to get interesting.
So TL;DR, just keep winning, beating the teams you should starting this weekend and the Gophers will continue to be in he Big Ten drivers seat as we enter the last month of the season.
HOW TO WATCH:
Michigan State Spartans @ #4 Minnesota Golden Gophers
Where: 3M Arena at Mariucci
When: 7 PM Friday/ 5 PM Saturday
TV: Fox Sports North + (Fri) Fox Sports North 0Sat)
Radio: 1130 AM/103,5 FM/ I Heart Radio App