The #6/5 ranked Minnesota Golden Gophers will look to pick up their first Big Ten win on the season this weekend when they head to Ann Arbor to face the #8/9 Michigan Wolverines. Both teams will be looking to regroup in conference play as they most most recently were swept by the surprisingly hot Wisconsin Badgers. Neither team wants to start the conference season 0-4 so both will be looking for at least one huge win this weekend.
Minnesota took out all the frustrations they had from the badgers beating up on them and drubbed UMD in the opening game of their home and home series last Friday beating the Bulldogs 5-1. Justen Close nearly had his 12th shutout of his career but game up the lone UMD goal with just under four minutes left in the game. Rhett Pitlick led the way for Minnesota with four points on the weekend including his first goal on the season. For his efforts he was awarded the Second Star of the Week from the Big Ten. Saturday saw the Gophers and Bulldogs draw to a 3-3 tie up in Duluth. Freshman defenseman Sam Rinzel had two of his team leading six assists in the series finale in Duluth.
Michigan was in Madison last weekend and blew a pair games late to be swept by the Badgers. Michigan led 4-3 headed into the third on Friday but game up a pair of goals in 30 seconds to lose 5-4. Saturday the game was tied at one before Wisconsin scored with 6.5 seconds left in the game to earn the sweep. So needless to say Michigan is not happy headed into this weekend’s series against Minnesota.
Gone are several of the stars of last year’s Wolverines squad, most notably Hobey Baker winner Adam Fantilli who is now with the Columbus Blue Jackets. He will be back in Yost Arena on Friday as they honor him and try to rile the crowd up against the Gophers. Other notable players gone from the Wolverines squad that beat the Gophers for the Big Ten Tournament Championship are forward Mackie Samoskevich, defenseman Luke Hughes, and most notably goalie Erik Portillo.
In goal the Wolverines will be starting a familiar face to Minnesota fans—Canisius transfer Jake Barczewski. He shut the Gophers down for two periods in the NCAA Tournament opening round game before Minnesota finally broke through and scored eight goals in the win. He will be wearing a different shade of yellow on Friday as he faces the Gophers yet again.
Minnesota will need to work hard to shut down the always high powered Wolverine offense. Michigan has the #1 scoring offense in the nation averaging five goals per game. Sophomore Gavin Brindley leads the country with nine goals on the season after just scoring 12 all last year. Another sophomore in Rutger McGroarty leads the Wolverines with 16 points on the season tying with Seamus Casey for a team high 11 assists. This will be a tough task for the Gophers.
Minnesota will need to get great play from their top few lines. Jimmy Snuggerud has been shut down at times by other teams and if that continued the Gophers need to get secondary scoring from the Jaxon Nelsons and Bryce Brodzinski’s of the world. It would be nice to see Oliver Moore really find himself this weekend and have a big one. Minnesota has Mike Koster back for the first time in Big Ten play and that will be huge as he was sorely missed against Wisconsin. But Ultimately slowing down the Wolverines all will fall on Close’s shoulders. He missed the series in Ann Arbor a year ago with illness and Minnesota saw Owen Bartoszkiewicz step in and earn a sweep for the Gophers as he was remarkable. Close was back in net when the Wolverines came to Mariucci in January and earned a OT split as the Gophers got a 4-3 win on Friday but lost 5-4 on Saturday. Then of course Close was in net as the Wolverines defeated him and the Gophers in the Big Ten Championship game for the second consecutive season. If he can keep the Wolverines to 3 or less, then it will be the Gopher offense who will need to pick up the slack.
This weekend will also be the first time this year you may here a good chunk of the Gopher fanbase complaining about how they can see the games. There will be no TV broadcast this weekend at all—the only way to see the games is by subscribing to B1G+. Big Ten Network has the opening weekend of college basketball on Friday and then football leading into volleyball on Saturday leaving no room for hockey telecasts. Tus, streaming and listening to Wally and Frank via the radio or streaming are your only options.
Hopefully Minnesota can get back on track in conference play and find a way to come out with at least a split against the Wolverines this weekend.
HOW TO WATCH:
#5/6 Minnesota Golden Gophers @ #8/9 Michigan Wolverines
Where: Yost Ice Arena, Ann Arbor, Michigan
When: 6 Pm Friday/Saturday