Ann Arbor, Mich. — Minnesota boasts seven forwards with double-digits goal totals, but their top line of Tyler Sheehy, Rem Pitlick, and Justin Kloos leads the way, and did so Saturday by scoring three goals in a 4-1 win over Michigan in front of 5,522 at Yost Ice Arena .
The top line has 50 of the 131 goals scored by #5 Minnesota (22-10-2, 13-5-0-0) this season and is a big reason why Minnesota is leading the Big Ten Conference headed into the final weekend.
“It was a good team win,” said coach Don Lucia. “Our goaltender played well, the guys we needed to score scored, and the guys we needed to block shots and defend did that.”
Eric Schierhorn stopped 27 of 28 shots for his 22nd win of the season, just one win behind national leader Denver Tanner Jaillet’s 23. Lucia called Michigan (11-18-3, 4-12-2-2) a team much improved from the one he saw at Mariucci Arena back in January, and their improved play demanded more consistency from his team. After only blocking 15 shots and allowing two power play goals Friday, Minnesota responded with 28 blocks, including six from Ryan Lindgren and five from Jack Sadek, and killed all three shorthanded situations. The Gophers also avoided turnovers at either blue line which has been a point of concern all season.
The weekend results clinched Minnesota a first-round bye in the Big Ten Tournament and allows them to virtually guarantee themselves a NCAA record sixth consecutive regular season conference title with a win next weekend against Michigan State. They moved from #4 to #5 in the Pairwise Ranking, but even a sweep wouldn’t have been enough to stay ahead of Western Michigan after the Broncos split with Minnesota Duluth. After everybody in the Big Ten split this weekend, Penn State stayed ninth in the Pairwise Ranking, Wisconsin stayed 13th, and Ohio State fell from 15th to 17th.
Minnesota’s top line got them on the board first 15:25 into the first period with all three forwards involved with the goal. A fore-checking captain Justin Kloos forced s Michigan defender to throw it up the wall where Tyler Sheehy was waiting to seal it off. Sheehy dished it over to Rem Pitlick in the middle of the slot, and the freshman put it up top for his 13th goal of the season.
It looked like Michigan might have tied up the score at the close of the first period, but officials waived off the goal after video review showed Cooper Marody interfered with Schierhorn despite some contact from Kloos around the crease.
Sheehy made the score 2-0 with his 19th goal of the season coming on the rush 11:55 into the second period. Kloos lugged the puck up the right wing, and as a passing lane opened up with Pitlick driving the middle, he found Sheehy cross ice for the tally.
Leon Bristedt stretched the Gophers lead to three 14:56 into the second period when his one-timer attempt was partially blocked, but still found it’s way over Michigan goalie Hayden Lavigne for his 12th goal of the season. The goal topped off a sequence where Vinni Lettieri, Taylor Cammarata, and Jack Sadek all had one-timers blocked by Wolverines in quick succession.
The Wolverines cut the Gophers lead back to two goals one minute 27 seconds later when Tony Calderone lost his check after Michigan’s initial chance on the rush was extinguished and had an easy look at goal.
Michigan pressed the play throughout the third period out-shooting Minnesota 11-6 and pulling their goalie with 3:32 to go in regulation. Bristedt eventually created a chance for the Gophers to relieve the pressure and Sheehy got the empty net goal for his 20th of the season at 18:08 of the third. The empty netter was the team’s national leading seventh goal after a goalie is pulled. Sheehy now leads the Big Ten scoring race with 52 points on the year–the most in a season by a Gopher since Ryan Potulny’s 63 during the 2005-06 season–and places him sixth nationally in scoring.
Lucia had Connor Reilly on the ice at the end with Kloos and Sheehy for the closing minutes, but he noted in the post-game with ESPN1500 that it wasn’t due to injury to Pitlick. The coach wanted experienced forwards out at the end of the game with Michigan pressing the play, and Pitlick had already done his job on the offensive side of the rink earlier.
Minnesota closes out its regular season with a pair of games with the conference’s cellar dweller Michigan State (3-13-2, 7-22-3). Friday’s game will be televised on ESPNews with an early 6:30 PM puck drop and then the game will be on FSN+ Saturday at 7 PM, both games will have radio coverage on ESPN1500.