Michigan hockey defeats Minnesota 4-3 for second straight Big Ten hockey tournament title

If the Big Ten returns its hockey tournament to a single-venue format, as it did early in the conference, Michigan hockey might have a suggestion: 3M Arena at Mariucci in Minneapolis.

For the second consecutive season, the second-ranked Wolverines went to Minnesota’s lair and walked away with a 4–3 victory to claim the Big Ten title and the conference’s automatic berth in the NCAA Tournament. Last season, the Wolverines dominated for 58 minutes. Saturday’s showdown was much tighter, with the teams changing leadership several times, but the Wolverines prevailed again.

Sophomore Dylan Duke scored on his backhand with 8:14 left in the third period to give Michigan its second consecutive Big Ten Tournament title and virtually guarantee the Wolverines (24-11-3) a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. The 16-team field will be announced Sunday night on ESPNU. Minnesota is also expected to be the top seed, with Quinnipiac, who lost to Michigan in the regional final last season, and Denver, who beat Michigan in the Frozen Four, also potential seeders.

Michigan forward Dylan Duke (25) talks with Michigan State forward Tiernan Shoudy (13) during the third period of “Duel in the D” at Little Caesars Arena in Detroit on Saturday, Feb. 11, 2023.

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Equality in two periods

Minnesota opened the scoring with a Brody Lamb shot past Michigan goaltender Erik Portillo on the left side. Freshman Logan Cooley, the third overall pick in last summer’s NHL Entry Draft and one of two finalists for the Hobey Baker Award playing at Mariucci Saturday night, pulled a loose puck into center ice and drove into the offensive zone on the right side. , blown by a pair of Michigan defenders. After getting their attention, he slid the puck to Lamb, who held it for half a second before firing a wrist shot for the scoreboard.

Michigan had to wait until the second period to even the match. Just over three minutes later, rookie Gavin Brindley carried the puck behind the net and threw it to Ethan Erickson who was waiting in the left circle. Erickson fired a single shot, but Minnesota goaltender Justen Close connected, stopping the shot but allowing a rebound ahead. Freshman Rutger McGroarty dove in and hit the puck at Close on Michigan’s eighth.

Shot #9 gave the Wolverines command of the game. About 30 seconds after McGroarty’s goal, Michigan again had the puck in Minnesota’s zone after a head-to-head victory over Adam Fantilli, the other finalist for Hobey Baker playing on Saturday. The rookie dropped the puck to defender Keaton Pehrson, who fired a shot that went wide right, hit the posts and bounced to the left side of the net, where McGroarty was waiting. The Winnipeg Jets 2022 first round pick then swept the puck into the net before Close could get to the opposite side of the net, for a 2-1 lead with 16:14 left in the second.

But Michigan’s lead lasted just five minutes when Jimmy Snuggerud picked up a loose puck and drove into Michigan’s zone with Cooley on his left side for a two-to-none. When Snuggerud slid the puck to Cooley, his USA teammate at the Junior Worlds last winter, Portillo dove in to break up the pass. He missed but Cooley didn’t, sliding to a 2–2 game with 10:49 left in the period.

The Golden Gophers nearly made it 3-2 just 24 seconds later. Matthew Knies, driving into the net, was fouled and hit Portillo at the line. Portillo slid back, untying the net just as Gopher grabbed the rebound and fired. As Minnesota celebrated, the officials waved the scoreboard and called a penalty for Michigan star Luke Hughes. Michigan was then able to kill the penalty to head it to third for a tie.

three for all

Rhett Pitlick worked his way through a pair of Michigan halfbacks and then fired the puck past Michigan goaltender Erik Portillo 1:57 into the third period to give the Golden Gophers a 3-2 lead. But the Wolverines weren’t done; about three minutes later, rookie defenseman Seamus Casey equalized with a flurry near the blue line that cut its way through the crowd and narrowly missed McGroarty’s stick. Minnesota challenged the goal on a lost offside decision, but officials ruled it a good goal.

Selection Sunday

Michigan and the rest of the Big Ten’s NCAA contenders — almost certain overall picks from Minnesota, Ohio State and Penn State — will figure their way into the Frozen Four (slated for Tampa, FL, April 6-8) at 6:30 a.m. pm Sunday when the course is revealed on ESPNU.

Michigan State has two additional NCAA prospect squads, with Michigan Tech (24-0-4) and Western Michigan (23-14-1) putting themselves in position for at-large berths. The Huskies are led by senior goaltender Blake Pietila, another of Hobey Baker’s 10 finalists, while the Broncos feature senior forward Jason Polin, who leads the nation in goals (29) while also being a finalist for Hobey Baker.

This year’s four-team regionals are in Fargo, North Dakota; Manchester, New Hampshire; Allentown, Pennsylvania; and Bridgeport, Conn. The Golden Gophers and Denver Pioneers (the defending national champions) are both 1 seed contenders with Fargo regional appeal, while Quinnipiac is the likely No. 1 in Bridgeport. That leaves Manchester or Allentown to the Wolverines. Michigan was the top seed in Allentown last season and beat AIC and Quinnipiac to advance to the program’s No. 26 spotth Frozen Four – the most in NCAA history.

Disappointment in Mankato

Meanwhile, in Mankato, Minnesota, Northern Michigan fell short of an impressive run for the CCHA title; the Wildcats, who won six straight to improbably reach the Finals, narrowly missed out on their first NCAA Tournament berth since 2010. The Wildcats took a 2-0 lead in the final two minutes thanks to a pair of goals from Alex Frye. But the Mavericks scored twice in 82 seconds to tie it at 2–2. Finally, Zach Krajnik scored 1:08 into the extra period to return the Mavericks, who finished runners-up nationally in 2022, back to the NCAA Tournament.

This article originally appeared in Detroit Free Press: Michigan Hockey Defeats Minnesota, 4-3, for Second Straight Big Ten Title

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