For the third time in two weeks the Minnesota Golden Gophers and the Michigan Wolverines will face-off on a hockey rink. One of the Gophers or the Wolverines will play for a Big Ten Tournament Championship Tuesday night, but will need to get past the other one first on Monday. It was the expected semifinal matchup when the pairings were finalized, and it should be a great game. The question will remain as to what Gopher team will show up on the ice Monday night—the one that won last Saturday’s game handily against the Wolverines, or the one that struggled last Friday and yesterday.
Minnesota advanced to the semifinals by the skin of their teeth after a 2-1 win in overtime over Michigan State on Sunday afternoon. Sampo Ranta put the Gophers in the semifinals with the game winner 10:35 into the extra period with a wicked wrist shot off of a feed from Jaxon Nelson. It saved the Gophers from what would have been an embarrassing loss at the hands of the Spartans, the last place team in the conference and a team Minnesota had defeated four times in the regular season easily. But, the Gophers almost didn’t get to overtime at all. It took a game saving goal by Bryce Brodzinski with 4:59 left in the third period to tie the game at one after Spartan backup goaltender Pierce Charleson had held the Gophers scoreless for the first 55 minutes of the game.
In fact, Charleson was by far the player of the game. The Spartan freshman goalie was on fire making 48 saves including several insane ones that would have normally been goals for the Gophers. It appeared that he was going to backstop Michigan State to a 1-0 upset until Brodzinski made a great individual play to tie the game and force the extra period.
Michigan State went up 1-0 in the first period on a power play goal by Dennis Cesana—the first power play goal in a month for Michigan State and only their fifth of the season. Minnesota finally woke up late in the first but Charleson stopped everything Minnesota threw at him.
Periods two and three were much of the same. Minnesota for the most part controlled play but Michigan State was always in the Gophers shooting lanes, and when they weren’t Charleson was there to make the save. The Spartans had over 25 blocked shots in the game to go with the 48 saves. Minnesota just could not buy a goal until the Brodzinski tally with 4:59 left.
Overtime was much of the same with the Gophers controlling play. Brodzinski almost ended the game early in OT when he hit the post and just missed chipping in the rebound. Finally Ranta took a feed from Nelson and ended the game 10:30 into OT.
In Sampo Ranta We Trust. pic.twitter.com/9nQ8ywjl4W— Minnesota Men’s Hockey (@GopherHockey) March 14, 2021
Jack Lafontaine was his typical steady self in goal for Minnesota making 22 saves in the win. But the big loss for Minnesota was freshman star defenseman Brock Faber leaving the game in the third period with what appeared to be a shoulder injury when he crashed into the boards. He was slow to get up and left the ice on his own power but did not return to action in the rest of the game. No information as to his status for Monday’s semifinal was available, but it did not sound likely that he would be able to play. That would mean Robbie Stucker would be inserted into the third defensive pair to replace Stucker in the lineup.
As for Michigan the Wolverines advanced with a 4-0 win over Ohio State in the last quarterfinal of the night on Sunday. Brendon Brisson opened and closed the scoring with a pair of goals for Michigan, and they looked sharp from the get go. Minnesota will have a tough task to corrall the skilled Wolverines Monday evening.
Minnesota won the season series 3-1 over Michigan, but that stat is a bit misleading. The Gophers swept Michigan in December in Ann Arbor when both teams were missing players with the US and Canadian World Junior Team. With full rosters the teams split a pair a weekend ago in Minneapolis with Michigan looking like the much better team in earning a 5-2 win on Friday before the Gophers regrouped and came back to win on Saturday 4-2.
The keys for the Gophers will be two-fold. One, they need to put the puck in the net when they have good scoring chances. If Minnesota doesn’t convert better than they did against the Spartans on Sunday, they will be headed back to Minneapolis to wait for the NCAA selection show on Sunday rather than playing for a championship on Tuesday. Secondly the Gophers will need to shut down the high powered Wolverine offense. The Gophers gave up goals to a trio of the Wolverines outstanding freshmen last Friday in Thomas Bordeleau, Kent Johnson and Matty Beniers. Brisson scored a pair against the Buckeyes yesterday. Keep those names off of the score sheet and there is a good chance you can advance.
The winner will play at 7:00 Tuesday night against the winner of the other semifinal this afternoon between #1 seed Wisconsin and #5 seed Penn State. The Nittany Lions advanced with a 6-3 win over #4 seed Notre Dame probably ending the Irish’s season. Tis was a week after returning to play after nearly a month due to a COVID shutdown and getting swept by the Irish in the final series of the regular season. The Nittany Lions are just 1-3 this season against the Badgers and have given up at least four goals in all four games. Unless Penn State suddenly figures out how to play defense it’s likely the Badgers will face the Minnesota/Michigan winner for a banner Tuesday night. We can only hope Sunday was the wakeup call the Gophers needed and we can get a classic Border Battle for a Banner Tuesday night.
HOW TO WATCH:
Big Ten Tournament Semifinal: #2 Minnesota vs #3 Michigan
Where: Compton Family Ice Center, South Bend, Indiana
When: 7:30 PM
Radio: 1130 AM/103.5/FM/ I Heart Radio App