CHN Staff Report
A bit more than single-season conference supremacy is on the line Saturday when top-seeded Minnesota hosts second-seeded Michigan with the Big Ten title on the line.
The game will break a tie between the Wolverines and Gophers (and Notre Dame) for the most Big Ten playoff championships since the conference began sponsoring men’s hockey in 2014. It’s a carbon copy of last season’s title game that saw the Wolverines (23-11-3) topple Minnesota on its home ice, claiming a comfortable 4-1 lead that Matthew Knies turned sweaty with a pair of last-minute goals with the extra attacker on the ice for the Gophers. It’s also the continuation of a series that has provided plenty of thrills this season. Minnesota (26-8-1) holds a 3-1 advantage, with both sides claiming overtime wins in a January series at Mariucci.
“I think there’s mutual respect for how they play the game and how we play the game,” interim Michigan coach Brandon Naurato told reporters this week. “It’s just good hockey. That’s not a knock on anyone else, but it should be a really fun game to watch.”
It’s certainly hard to argue with the sex appeal of the game, particularly from a general hockey fan’s perspective. College hockey die hards may bristle at any notion of Big Ten supremacy, but to the outside casual observer, this game is loaded with star power — players who will be in the NHL in short order, and do well. That alone makes it must-see TV, even if we in college hockey know it takes more than that to win a national championship.
Minnesota, unbeaten in regulation at home since November, arrived in the title game thanks to a strong outing from a player not among that list of NHL blue chippers — netminder Justen Close — in the semifinals. The Gophers spotted Michigan State an early 1-0 lead and were outshot 30-24 but rolled to a 5-1 win.
In its semifinal matchup, Michigan had Ohio State on the mat after 11 minutes, jumping out to a 3-0 lead and coasting to a 7-3 win thanks to a four-point showing from Adam Fantilli.
Those goal-scoring totals are somewhat indicative of how these two teams have played all season.
For those who are neutral, the numbers indicate this could provide the kind of high-stakes drama that makes this the best time of year. For those who aren’t, it might be prudent to make a last-minute booking with…
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