As Aidan Cavallini placed the puck in the vacant Michigan goal with under 40 seconds to play in Saturday’s game, the sweep of the Wolverines was assured. That was crucial, obviously, because recording a sweep in the Big Ten is never easy. It was especially important seeing as the sweep of the Wolverines fell directly after the Badgers were swept by Penn State the weekend before. But the most crucial and exciting outcome of the sweep is that it means next weekend’s series in Minneapolis against will be for first place in the regular season’s waning weeks.
It’s the Badgers. It’s the Gophers. At Mariucci with the potential to determine a conference champ, what more can you ask for as a college hockey fan?
Wisconsin-Minnesota is one of college hockey’s biggest rivalries, standing right in line with others like BC-BU, Denver-CC, Michigan-Michigan State and others. But with the championship ramifications, Bucky-Goldy will be all that and more this weekend.
Wisconsin will make the four-hour trek to Minneapolis trailing the Gophers by three in the conference (33 pts. to 30). The Gophers sit at 11-3 and the Badgers at 10-4.
The No. 5-ranked Gophers come into this series in strong form. They’ve won 5-of-6 and are 9-3 in the New Year. Minnesota scored an impressive sweep in Hockey Valley over Penn State this past weekend. Saturday night’s win was quite the adventure for the Maroon and Gold. It took a Justin Kloos goal with four seconds to go in regulation to send the game into overtime…an overtime concluded by Rem Pitlick goal giving the Gophers the win.
Now, to this weekend. The Gophers and the Badgers are similar in that they both have very potent and exciting offenses. There are four Gophers in the top 15 in scoring in the Big Ten, and there are four Badgers. They both average four goals-per-game as well as around 33 shots on goal per-game. Also, their collective offensive proves is visible on the national level. They are both top 10 in the NCAA in team offense and power-play percentage and have both shown the ability to nab shorthanded goals. But, unfortunately for each, they’re both less than stellar defensively. Both Wisconsin and Minnesota fall outside of the top 25 in team defense, nationally. Both primary goaltenders, Jack Berry and Eric Schierhorn fall outside of the top 25, nationally, in most individual goaltending statistics.
So, herein lies the deciding factor for this weekend’s massive series. Neither the Gophers nor the Badgers struggle to put the puck in the net. But they both struggle keeping it out of their own nets. The matchups of Luke Kunin and Trent Frederic versus Tyler Sheehy and Justin Kloos are exciting to talk about. But it will really be the potent forward pairs against their opposing defense and goalies. If the Gophers can subdue Kunin, Frederic and company on the Badgers’ offense, they’ll take the series. But if they can’t, and the Badgers can stifle Sheehy, Kloos and Co., Wisconsin will be successful at Mariucci this time around.