The last time the Michigan hockey team faced off against Minnesota was in March of 2016, when the Wolverines left the ice in Minneapolis as Big Ten Tournament champions after a 5-3 win over the Golden Gophers.
This weekend, in their first series matchup of the season, the Wolverines will travel to Mariucci Arena to resume Big Ten play against No. 9 Minnesota on Friday and Saturday. Michigan (1-3-0 Big Ten, 8-9-1 overall) is coming off a two-week break after the Great Lakes Invitational on December 29 and 30, where it finished third overall.
“You’d like to say that you keep the same mentality whether you’re playing on a weekend or not, but it’s just a different feel around the rink,” said senior goaltender Zach Nagelvoort. “I feel like we haven’t been playing consistent hockey games in months because we’ve been off for a couple weeks, so I’m excited to play this weekend. … I’m hungry to play hockey.”
The Golden Gophers (3-1-0, 11-5-2) are currently riding a four-game win streak and won five of six in the month of December. Captain and forward Justin Kloos has been imperative to the program’s recent success, tallying nine points in Minnesota’s past four games with three goals and six assists.
Kloos also boasts a record of 129 career points in 135 games, ranking him third in the NCAA and first in the Big Ten among active players. But it is forward Tyler Sheehy who leads Minnesota in points and goals so far this season with 25 and 12, respectively.
“They score a lot of goals at home, they’ve got the home crowd just like everyone does,” said Michigan coach Red Berenson. “If we can keep them off the scoresheet, that means they’re not having a good game and we are. So that’s the bottom line. We’ve got to shut their best forwards down, they’ve got guys with 12 goals and so on, so it’s going to be a good challenge for us.”
Michigan isn’t without a strong roster, either. Junior forward Tony Calderone leads the Wolverines in goals with 10, while freshman forward Will Lockwood leads in points with 13. And sophomore defenseman Joe Cecconi has just returned to Michigan’s lineup after winning a gold medal at the World Junior Championships with the U.S. team.
However, the Golden Gophers do have one interesting challenge for the Wolverines: Minnesota’s rink is Olympic-sized. To prepare for the different atmosphere, Michigan has been practicing at The Cube, an Olympic-sized ice rink in Ann Arbor.
“Practicing here (at the Cube) is big for us,” said Nagelvoort. “The only thing I really notice is the angles are a little different on the power play because the ice is wider. They have more room to play with the puck on the sides, so you have to change your angles a little bit. But I feel confident after skating here the last couple of days. We’ve worked on those kinds of things.”
That work will come into play this weekend, and while this series isn’t determining a tournament title, it does decide which team will tack on additional conference wins. With much of Big Ten play coming in the next few months, both teams could use a step in the right direction.