Hello, college hockey fans. I’m back at 3M Arena at Mariucci for the series finale between the Gophers and Michigan (7 p.m., FSN Plus). Tonight’s game takes on added importance for Minnesota (13-11-1, 4-8-1-1 Big Ten), which was on its heels early in a 5-3 loss to the Wolverines (9-10-2, 4-7-2-1) on Friday night. Michigan scored 14 seconds into the game and led 3-1 after one period, prompting Gophers coach Don Lucia to pull sophomore goalie Mat Robson after the first period.
Tonight’s starter in goal for the Gophers will be junior Eric Schierhorn, who made eight saves and gave up one goal in the final two periods Friday.
The Gophers’ Big Ten losing streak reached four games Friday night, and they have lost six of their past seven in league play and are in a 1-7-1 slump in the conference. Minnesota entered Saturday in a fifth-place tie with Wisconsin in the seven-team Big Ten, and the Gophers at present would have to go on the road for a conference quarterfinal series.
As the Gophers have struggled in Big Ten play, other conference teams have heated up. Notre Dame has won 15 in a row and is a perfect 12-0 in Big Ten games. Second-place Penn State is on an 8-0-3 run, including 4-0-3 in the Big Ten. And third-place Ohio State is on an 8-2-1 stretch and has a 6-2-1 run in conference play.
Friday’s loss also hurt the Gophers in the PairWise Rankings, dropping them from No. 9 to No. 13. Teams in the Nos. 13-14 range often are dangerously close to missing the NCAA tournament when the 16-team field is selected. What’s helping keep the Gophers in NCAA at-large contention is a 9-3 nonconference record, which includes a sweep of Clarkson (No. 1 in the PairWise entering Saturday) and splits with St. Cloud State (No. 3) and North Dakota (No. 8).
Here are the line combinations and defense pairs for tonight’s game:
Brent Gates Jr.-Mike Szmatula-Tyler Nanne
Leon Bristedt-Tyler Sheehy-Brannon McManus
Rem Pitlick-Casey Mittelstadt-Scott Reedy
Ryan Norman-Darian Romanko-Jack Ramsey
Ryan Lindgren-Jack Sadek
Steve Johnson-Jack Glover
Sam Rossini-Ryan Zuhlsdorf
Eric Schierhorn in goal.
Dexter Dancs-Cooper Marody-Tony Calderone
Brendan Warren-Jake Slaker-Josh Norris
James Sanchez-Adam Winborg-Dakota Raabe
Michael Pastujov-Nick Pastujov-Jack Becker
Quinn Hughes-Joseph Cecconi
Sam Piazza-Luke Martin
Griffin Luce-Nicholas Boka
Hayden Lavigne in goal.