Minneapolis, MN – With a team as talented as Michigan, it doesn’t take much to create scoring opportunities.
The Wolverines have seven first-round NHL draft picks on their roster, including four of the top five from the most recent draft, and that talent was on full display this weekend at Mariucci Arena.
Minnesota themselves are no slouches, boasting two first rounders of their own (Ryan Johnson and Chaz Lucius). All in all, it was a talented bunch of players taking the ice in what promised to be a keystone series in the race for the Big Ten regular season title.
A clear emphasis on the weekend for the Gophers was to play responsible, team-first hockey and limit Michigan’s grade-A chances whenever possible. Overall, Minnesota did a good job of it, limiting Michigan to five goals on just 46 total shots for the weekend.
Minnesota (12-9-2-1 Overall, 8-4-1-1 B1G) was able to limit the Michigan machine to just one rebound goal in 60+ minutes of action Friday night. Dylan Duke scored halfway through the second period to give Michigan a 1-0 lead, but Matthew Knies tied up the game early in the third, and Ben Meyers scored on an overtime powerplay to give the Gophers a 2-1 overtime victory and two league points.
Michigan (18-4-1-3, 10-3-0-3) was outplayed pretty thoroughly Saturday evening, but their talented players were able to break through the Gopher team defense for goals. Minnesota got out to an early lead Saturday behind Bryce Brodzinski’s goal at 2:46 of the first. The Gophers outshot Michigan 15-7 in the first, but the Wolverines created two quality chances and capitalized on both of them. Brendan Brisson finished a beautiful tic-tac-toe play at 14:39 to knot the game at 1-1, and Matty Beniers gave Michigan a 2-1 lead just a minute later at 15:41.
Minnesota again came out firing in the second, outshooting Michigan 18-7, but the Wolverines again were able to capitalize on their limited chances to win the period. Michael Pastujov scored seven minutes into the period to give the Wolverines a two-goal lead at 3-1, and despite Minnesota’s offensive push the Gophers could not get a goal past Michigan goaltender Erik Portillo, who made 39 saves on 40 total shots in the Saturday victory.
Michigan’s Nick Blankenburg put the final nail in the Gophers’ coffin at 12:22 of the third, putting a wrister past Minnesota goalie Justen Close to give the Wolverines a 4-1 lead, which was the final scoreline as the game ended.
The result was four points for Michigan and two for Minnesota, which sets up an exciting race to the finish for the Big Ten regular season title. Currently, Michigan and Ohio State are tied for the lead with 33 points in 16 games played, with the Gophers at 27 points and Notre Dame at 24 points. Both Minnesota and ND have two games in hand on the Wolverines and Buckeyes.
All in all, hard to be disappointed in the Gopher effort this weekend, as Minnesota outplayed Michigan on the ice for vast stretches of the series. Particularly of note were the efforts of the Gophers’ now-undisputed top line of Ben Meyers – Matthew Knies – Chaz Lucius, who looked dangerous nearly every shift.
Minnesota has one more series to enjoy the talents of Meyers and Knies (along with Brock Faber), who will depart for the US Olympic team after the Gophers’ next series at Notre Dame. The stretch run will look interesting in the Big Ten, with Minnesota losing three and Michigan losing four key players to the US and Canada Olympic rosters.
Minnesota’s series against Notre Dame will be televised and streamed on Peacock Premium. It’s a 6:30 start Friday and a 5PM start on Saturday. The games can be heard at their usual homes on AM1130 and FM103.5.