ST. PAUL, Minn — The Michigan hockey team was in the same position a year ago. However, much less is at stake this time.
After dismantling Penn State 7-2 in the Big Ten Tournament semifinals, the Wolverines will face Minnesota for the tournament championship for the second consecutive year. Last season, the Gophers prevailed in Detroit, ending Michigan’s season.
But this year, the roles have reversed.
Unlike a year ago, the seventh-ranked Wolverines’ season isn’t on the line. For the first time in four years, Michigan entered the conference tournament with the ability to lose, while still guaranteeing itself a chance to play in the NCAA Tournament.
Minnesota, on the other hand, needs to defeat Michigan to prolong its season.
“I think first off, the bye was huge,” said junior forward JT Compher. “We didn’t have that luxury last year. I think we were a little banged up going into that third game, the championship game. But I think that we are as desperate as any team here, and to win the championship, we’re going to have to be.
“We’re focused on coming here and getting two wins. We’re not satisfied with one win this weekend. If we want to make a run in the postseason, you’ve got to finish off weekends like we did last weekend. And that focus is winning tomorrow and getting the championship.”
Michigan and Minnesota split its season series with both teams winning once at home and on the road. The Gophers, the No. 1 seed in the tournament, steadily handled Big Ten play, overcoming a slow start to their non-conference schedule.
Michigan, on the other hand, is playing its best hockey of the season, outscoring opponents in its last three games, 20-4.
If the Gophers plan on derailing Michigan, they’ll need to stop the feared CCM line: Compher, junior forward Tyler Motte and freshman forward Kyle Connor.
Against Penn State, Connor tallied four goals, upping his season total to 34, while Compher notched five helpers, skyrocketing his total to 44 assists.
Penn State junior forward David Goodwin said after the game that the CCM line is the best he has seen while playing college hockey since Boston College’s Johnny Gaudreau, Bill Arnold and Kevin Hayes back in 2013-14 — widely considered one of the most potent lines ever.
Added Penn State Coach Guy Gadowsky: “Michigan is just really, really good. I think they’re really, really good, they’re really scary. Their offense is tremendous, it’s as explosive an offense as I’ve, I think, coached against in college.
“I can see them doing to other teams what they did to us.”