The Big Ten Hockey awards were announced on Tuesday afternoon by the conference and Minnesota Golden Gophers goalie Jack LaFontaine was named the Big Ten Goaltender of the Year. He was joined on the All-Big Ten First team by a pair of his teammates in forward Sampo Ranta and defenseman Jackson LaCombe.
LaFontaine has been the anchor to the Gopher defense this season. LaFontaine leads the nation in wins on the season with 20. Among goalies that have played at least half their team’s games, Laffer is tied for first in the nation with a .937 save percentage and is second with a goals against average of 1.65. His five shutouts also are fifth in the country. Every night LaFontaine gives the Gophers a chance to win and he has allowed two or fewer goals in 26 of his last 30 games between the pipes. He is the third Gopher goalie to win the award after Adam Wilcox and Eric Schierhorn. He was also one of three finalists for Big Ten Player of the Year.
Sampo Ranta has had a breakout junior season for Minnesota. He has set career highs with 28 points and 18 goals, both leading the Gophers. His 18 goals rank him second in the nation behind Big Ten Player of the Year and probable Hobey Baker Award winner Cole Caufield of Wisconsin. The Gophers are 18-3 this season when Ranta scores a point and 7-0 when he gets two or more.
Jackson LaCombe has improved in his sophomore season on the blue line for the Gophers. The Eden Prairie native set career highs with 4 goals and 18 points on the season. LaCombe has a pair of short handed goals and ranks second in the conference in scoring from a defenseman and 10th nationally. The Gophers are 10-1 this season when LaCombe gets on the score sheet.
The Gophers also had one member on the All-Big Ten Freshman Team and several All-Big Ten Honorable mentions. Freshman defenseman Brock Faber was named to both the All-Freshman team and honorable mention all-conference. He has scored seven points this season and leads the Gophers with 35 blocked shots.
Joining Faber as All-Big Ten Honorable Mention was Ben Meyers, Sammy Walker, Ryan Johnson and Scott Reedy. Faber was one of the finalists for both Big Ten Freshman of the Year and Defenseman of the Year. which were given to Thomas Bordleau and Cam York of Michigan. Bob Motzko was one of three finalists for Big Ten Coach of the Year which was given to Wisconsin’s Tony Granato.
It will be a face-off between the Big Ten Player of the Year and Goalie of the Year Tuesday night as Minnesota and Wisconsin will face-off for the Big Ten Tournament Championship. The Badgers have had the best of Minnesota this season winning three of four games including sweeping Minnesota in Minneapolis. But, if you are looking for a silver lining, the Gophers struggled the most on the Olympic sized sheet at home this season and were nearly perfect on the road dropping only one of the two games to Wisconsin in Madison.
The Gophers will have a few keys to the game if they want to win:
- Don’t come out flat. Minnesota has struggled to score in the opening two periods in their last two games and have needed a frantic third period comeback to force overtime both games. Wisconsin probably won’t let you do that, they are just too good offensively. If the Gophers come out flat in the opening period tonight they may see too deep a deficit to come back from unless Lafontaine is super human.
- Don’t play pretty. The Gophers can have a bad tendency to try and play pretty against teams...especially well skilled teams that will do the same to them. To win the Gophers need to play hard nosed hockey. Put the puck on net, find rebounds, pass well to enter the Wisconsin zone and don’t make really bad passes. The Badgers can punish teams in transition..see the Badgers overtime winner over Penn State on Monday.
- STAY OUT OF THE BOX!!! This one is critical for Minnesota’s chances. The Badger power play with Cole Caufield and company is just too damn good. Caufield is a sniper and the Badgers are very good about giving him plenty of space to get great shots off. Every single time the Gophers go shorthanded Tuesday night they might as well set themselves on fire and hope they can get the fire out in time before the get hurt.
- Do everything in your power to shut down the Caufield/Emberson line. There is a reason Caufield leads the nation in scoring. He is good. Very good. He will probably get at least one goal tonight. There won’t be much LaFontaine can do. But Minnesota will need to minimize the damage and then take advantage of what the badgers will give you on offense. Tonight is not a night for missed opportunities.
Besides being able to hang a banner, tonight’s game will have significant considerations for NCAA seeding. These two teams are both easily in the field of 16, but the winner tonight is almost guaranteed one of the four #1 seeds. The loser is also pretty much locked into a #2 seed, but there is a much much greater chance that the NCAA decides to limit travel for the non-#1 seeds and the loser of tonight ends up the #2 seed in Fargo and will need to go through North Dakota IN North Dakota to get to the Frozen Four. Win tonight and your path is much easier.
If Minnesota plays like they have in the third period of their last two games, they should win tonight. if they play like they did in the first two periods...it will probably be a clean sweep of Big Ten trophies for the Badgers. Don’t let that happen. BETTER DEAD THAN RED!
HOW TO WATCH:
Big Ten Championship Game #2 Minnesota Gophers vs #1 Wisconsin Badgers
Where: Compton Family Ice Arena, South Bend, Indiana
When: 7 PM
Radio: 1130 AM/103.5 FM/I Heart Radio App