College Hockey Series of the Week: Minnesota vs. Michigan

Story posted March 3, 2021 in Sports, CommRadio by Christopher Hess

It’s a battle of the blue bloods in the Big Ten this week—No. 3 Minnesota (19-5) will welcome No. 7 Michigan (13-8-1) to Mariucci Arena in Minneapolis for a late-season tilt.

Mel Pearson’s Wolverines are looking at a potential No. 2 seed in their respected regional once NCAA tournament time comes, and they will likely be the No. 3 or No. 4 seed in the conference tournament.

Draft picks galore line this Michigan roster, and a number of other players are expected to be high first-round selections in this summer’s draft as well.

Points leader Thomas Bordeleau was a second-round selection on the San Jose Sharks in the 2020 draft and has 26 points consisting of seven goals and 19 assists.

Other freshmen forwards such as Kent Johnson, Matty Beniers and Brendan Brisson are lethal weapons, and they, too, are first-round talents.

Brisson was picked by the Vegas Golden Knights in last year’s draft, and it is expected that Johnson and Beniers will be taken within the first 10-15 picks this summer.

Beniers leads all Wolverines in goals with nine, while Johnson’s 16 assists and 23 points gives this Michigan team an offense that is balanced, ranking No. 9 nationally with 3.52 goals per contest.

Defensively, 2019 Flyers first-rounder Cam York is one of the best D-men in the nation. He, too, has another exceptional talent alongside him in potential No. 1 overall pick Owen Power.

Nick Blankenburg is another Michigan defenseman that plays with an old-school edge and is not afraid to get his nose in the action.

In net, Strauss Mann has gotten the bulk of the workload, playing 17 games with a 9-7-1 record, a 1.87 goals-against average and a .929 save percentage.

Buffalo Sabres prospect Erik Portillo has also impressed in limited action, competing in seven games with a 4-1 record, a 1.67 goals-against average and a .935 save percentage.

Minnesota, meanwhile, has had one of its best seasons in quite some time, due in part to a prolific offense and stellar goaltending.

Jack LaFontaine has been virtually lights-out all season for the Golden Gophers. His stat line consisting of a 17-5 record, a 1.56 goals-against average and a .941 save percentage has thrust him into the Richter Award finalist list for best goalie in the land.

The Gophers also boast the second-best offensive attack in the country, averaging 3.88 goals, which is 0.1 behind North Dakota.

Colorado Avalanche prospect and do-it-all forward Sampo Ranta has been stellar for Bob Motzko’s team all season; he leads the Gophers in goals and points with 15 and 25, respectively.

Five other offensive players have over 20 points, and players like Ben Meyers and Sammy Walker each have over 10 goals. The offensive diversity is on full display every time this team takes the ice.

The defense has also been strong, as Ryan Johnson, Brock Faber, Jackson LaCombe and Mike Koster are leaders of a back end that has made life miserable for opposing offenses.

LaCombe, a 2019 second-round pick of the Anaheim Ducks, is a full 200-foot player that can light the lamp, dish the puck and clamp down on a team’s best offensive player.

Minnesota took care of the Wolverines 3-1 and 4-0 when the two sides met in early December, and they could clinch the Big Ten regular season title with a sweep, a win and a tie, or a split alongside Wisconsin not sweeping Michigan State in regulation.

The Gophers want to win their first conference title since the 2016-2017 season in the worst way possible and have the potential to do so. But, if there’s one thing we know about Big Ten hockey, it’s to expect the unexpected.

The Little Brown Jug on ice surely won’t disappoint in the slightest, and these two sides do not like each other very much.

Expect to see physical play, big hits, highlight-reel goals from both sides and an absolute beauty of a series.

Prediction: Series split

 

Christopher Hess is a senior majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email christopherhess22@gmail.com.