Minnesota Inches Further Ahead in the Race for the Big Ten Title; Magic Number at 1.5 Wins
Minneapolis, MN – And then, there were two.
Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota each entered the weekend with a chance to win the Big Ten title still, but after Michigan’s Friday loss to Ohio State, just the Gophers and Badgers remained alive in the quest for the championship.
Wisconsin took care of business Friday night against Notre Dame before inexplicably blowing a 3-1 lead in the 3rd period and getting lucky to salvage a lone point Saturday evening.
The Gophers looked in control throughout their weekend set with Michigan State, handling the Spartans en route to a weekend sweep and six valuable league points.
Minnesota (19-5-0 Overall, 15-5-0 B1G) and Michigan State (7-13-2, 5-12-1) played a fairly uneventful first 15 minutes Friday evening, before the Gophers scored twice in quick succession late in the first to take a 2-0 lead into the break.
Brannon McManus added a goal midway through the second to put the Gophers up 3-0.
MSU’s Tommy Apap scored shorthanded in the last few minutes of the period to give the Spartans a jump, but the Gophers were able to weather the storm, and Sampo Ranta scored in the third to essentially put the game away. Spartan Josh Nodler got MSU back within two at 4-2 with a goal midway through the third, but neither team was able to score the rest of the way.
Jack LaFontaine got the win Friday, making 19 stops on 21 Spartan shots. He was between the pipes again Saturday afternoon for the Gophers’ 5PM rubber match against Michigan State, and it was an even more complete effort for Minnesota on Saturday.
The Gophers scored four times in the second half of the first period to jump out to a commanding 4-0 lead going into the first intermission. The teams traded goals in the second period, but there were no other entries on the scoresheet, and Minnesota cruised to a 5-1 win.
The results mean that Minnesota inched four points ahead in the league standings, 45 to Wisconsin’s 41. Now, however, things get a little bizarre: Minnesota’s next scheduled series against Penn State has been technically postponed, but in reality it is unlikely to be rescheduled.
This leaves the Gophers with just one series left on the schedule, a season-ending tilt with the Wolverines. Wisconsin, on the other hand, is scheduled to play two more series against Ohio State and at Michigan State.
The Big Ten has already stated that, given the disparity in total games played, they will award the championship to the team with the best total winning percentage, rather than the team with the most raw points (or points percentage, like other leagues are doing).
Assuming Wisconsin plays four more games and Minnesota plays just two, the Gophers’ magic number to win the conference is 1.5, with a shootout win or shootout loss counting as half a win.
Any combination totaling to one and a half of Gopher wins against Michigan or Wisconsin non-wins against Ohio State and Michigan State means that Minnesota is the 2020-2021 Big Ten champions. This also means that it is possible the Gophers clinch the championship next weekend while idle, if Wisconsin earns less than one total win against Ohio State.
The team was in a similar position last season, needing only a few points to claim the league title after a horrendous start to the year, but they sputtered down the stretch and allowed Penn State to surge ahead and claim the title.
As mentioned, with next weekend’s series cancelled, the next Gopher games will be in March. Minnesota duels top-ten ranked Michigan at Mariucci Arena March 5th and 6th. The Gophers swept Michigan at Yost earlier this year, when both teams were missing multiple players to the World Juniors. It will be a good test for Minnesota heading into the postseason to face a Michigan team playing at full strength.
Minnesota leads the nation with six 20-point scorers on their roster:
- Sampo Ranta (15G-10A)
- Ben Meyers (11G-13A)
- Sammy Walker (12G-11A)
- Scott Reedy (8G-14A)
- Brannon McManus (8G-14A)
- Blake McLaughlin (9G-12A)
Ranta’s 15 goals are second in the nation behind Wisconsin’s Cole Caufield (19).
Jackson LaCombe’s 16 points (2G-14A) lead all Big Ten defensemen, and is good for T-8th in the nation.
Jack LaFontaine continues to excel in net. His 17 wins are tops nationally, while his GAA of 1.56 and Sv% of 0.941 are both second to Minnesota State’s Dryden McKay among all goalies with at least 5 games played.