You again? Gophers and Michigan reignite rivalry for Big Ten hockey tourney


Big Ten semifinal

8 p.m. Saturday vs. Michigan at 3M Arena at Mariucci

TV, radio: BTN, 103.5-FM

Randy Johnson's preview:

Opening bell: The third-seeded Gophers (22-9-5) advanced to the semifinals with a sweep of Penn State by 5-1 and 3-2 scores, while fourth-seeded Michigan (20-13-3) swept Notre Dame 5-4 and 4-3. Minnesota and Michigan are facing each other in the Big Ten tournament for the fourth consecutive season, with the Wolverines beating the Gophers 4-3 in both the 2022 and '23 conference championship games, and the Gophers winning 3-2 in overtime in a 2021 semifinal. They have played recently, too, as the Gophers won the opener of the final regular-season series 6-2 before the Wolverines won the finale 6-5 in overtime. Over the past three seasons, Minnesota is 7-6-1 vs. Michigan, with eight of the 14 games decided by one goal. The winner advances to the March 23 final against either No. 7 seed Ohio State or No. 1 seed Michigan State.

Watch them: Between the two teams, there likely will be 22 NHL players in the lineups, 13 for the Gophers and nine for Michigan. The Wolverines boast two players who are finalists for Big Ten individual awards: sophomore F Gavin Brindley (23 goals, 27 assists, 50 points), who is up for conference Player of the Year, and sophomore D Seamus Casey (7-36-43), who's up for Defensive Player of the Year. Brindley teams with RW Rutger McGroarty (16-34-50) and LW Dylan Duke (21-21-42) on a line that has produced 60 goals and 82 assists. … The Gophers counter with a top line of Rhett Pitlick (19-16-35), Oliver Moore (9-24-33) and Jimmy Snuggerud (20-13-33), plus a second line led by C Jaxon Nelson, who has eight goals in his past five games.

Pregame reading: Ryan Chesley draws comparisons to Brock Faber for his play on the Gophers blue line.

Forecast: Recent history shows that Gophers vs. Wolverines has become a must-see rivalry in the Big Ten featuring two teams heavy with NHL prospects. Both Minnesota and Michigan have advanced to the past two NCAA Frozen Fours, and their aim is to land in St. Paul in April. A game between these teams can turn into a track meet in a hurry, so keys for the Gophers are structured defensive play and avoiding penalties to keep Michigan's nation's-best power play (48-for-135, 35.56%) off the ice.

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