The #2 Minnesota Gophers head on the road for their toughest road trip of the season thus far taking on #3 Michigan Wolverines Thursday and Friday night this week. To add to the short week for both teams, reportedly both lockerrooms have been overrun by illness this past week leaving the status of several players up in the air. In either case, it will be a showcase of the two most talented teams in the Big Ten in a rematch of last march’s Big Ten Championship game.
Minnesota comes into the weekend after a split with Penn State at home last weekend. The Gophers never could find a grove in Thursday’s 4-2 loss, and struggled at times Friday before a big third period and a pair of Bryce Brodzinski goals from Jaxon Nelson that provided the difference in a 3-1 win. The Wolverines come into the weekend after taking four points in a win and OT loss at Notre Dame last weekend.
Michigan is once again loaded with talent. While many of their high draft picks have left for the NHL, they have kept a few around and reloaded with additional young talent. Luke Hughes is the name many will recognize. The sophomore defenseman returned for his second year in the Maize and Blue and was an early favorite to win the Hobey Baker Award this season. He has 12 points in his first 12 games this season and has been steller defensively. Michigan has a high powered top line and it is led by freshman star Adam Fantelli. He leads the nation in scoring with 23 points in 12 games with his linemates Mackie Samsokevich and Dylan Duke each thriving playing with him. The weakest link this far for Michigan has been goalie Erik Portillo. Portillo was a star in the Big Ten a season ago but while still sitting with an 8-2 record thanks to Michigan’s offense has struggled a bit with a 2.59 goals against average and just a .909 save percentage. If Minnesota can get quality shots on net, they can score on this team.
Minnesota will need some impact performances from their own top line of Logan Cooley, Mathew Knoes and Jimmy Snuggerud. The trio was held in check last weekend and tried to make just one too many pretty plays instead of putting the puck on the net. They will need to change that this weekend as Michigan’s skill level will not allow them to play pretty and succeed. Minnesota got some large contributions from their veterans in Brodzinski and Nelson last weekend along with Mason Nevers who has played well the past two series. Throw in Justen Close in net who is 14th in the nation with a 1.88 goals against average and the Gophers veteran blue line, and this series should be fun to watch.
Special teams will most likely play a large roll this weekend. Minnesota appears to have finally gotten their penalty kill figured out. After a rough start they have now killed off 13 consecutive penalties, while on the flip side the Gophers have scored at least one power play goal in four of their last five games. The Wolverines have one of the best power plays in the nation scoring one third of the time. Meanwhile the Wolverines kill off their own penalties 81% of the time, so there is room for the Gophers to score.
The biggest unknown will be who can actually take the ice for both teams. Illness has been going through both locker rooms this week with several Minnesota players missing practice time including Justen Close, and several Wolverines questionable for this weekend. Michigan reportedly even has one player in defenseman Steven Holtz who is in the hospital with a respiratory virus. Additional players supposedly are also ill and may not play this weekend.
In either case it should be a great matchup between a pair of highly talented teams and who are looking to go into the Thanksgiving week on a high note.
HOW TO WATCH:
#2 Minnesota Gophers @ #3 Michigan Wolverines
Where: Yost Arena, Ann Arbor Michigan
When: 5:30 Thursday, 5:00 Friday
TV: Big Ten Network
Radio:1130 AM/103.5 FM/ I Heart Radio App