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No. 6 Michigan hockey facing crucial series vs. No. 2 Minnesota

After the Wolverines’ 4-2 win over No. 8 Ohio State last weekend, Michigan hockey must take the series vs. No. 2 Minnesota.



Michigan State's Nash Nienhuis, left, closes in on Michigan's Mackie Samoskevich during the first period on Friday, Dec. 9, 2022, at Munn Arena in East Lansing. | © Nick King/Lansing State Journal / USA TODAY NETWORK

Last weekend, No. 6 Michigan hockey saw yet another crucial series split; this time, it was with No. 8 Ohio State. After the Buckeyes’ took game one of the series, 7-2, the Wolverines managed to rally and take game two, 4-2. Now, Michigan sits at 13-8-1 overall (5-7 Big Ten) heading into one of the biggest series of the season: at No. 2 Minnesota (17-6-1 overall, 11-2-1 Big Ten).

Minnesota sweeps Michigan hockey in first series

Earlier in the 2022-23 season, the 2nd-ranked Minnesota Golden Gophers came into Yost Ice Arena and swept the 8th-ranked Wolverines (2-0). Now, Michigan hockey looks to return the favor at the 3M Arena at Mariucci.

For the first time since late-2022, Michigan hockey is at full strength and has all of its star players; the Ohio State game was the Wolverines’ first game back at full strength, and there were clearly some growing pains. Still, there are no excuses for Michigan hockey any longer; it’s time to put up or shut up against the Gophers this weekend.

Michigan vs. Minnesota should be a classic

With both the Wolverines and Golden Gophers at full strength, this weekend’s series is shaping up to be a good one. Minnesota ranks T-3rd nationally in goals-per-game (3.9) while Michigan hockey ranks T-6th (3.7). Minnesota is T-12th in save percentage (.915) while the Wolverines are T-27th (.906).

Michigan hockey and Minnesota are nearly identical when it comes to power play percentage, and are only one spot apart in those standings. Minnesota ranked 9th (25 percent) while the Wolverines rank 10th (24.7 percent).

If the difference maker in this matchup is penalties, the series will likely lean in Minnesota’s favor. Michigan hockey is the 3rd-most penalized team in the nation with 359 penalties in minutes (PIM) so far this season. The Golden Gophers are the 8th-least penalized team in the country, with 182 PIM so far this season.

When it comes to offensive efficiency, this one could turn into a firework show. Michigan and Minnesota both have top-10 scorers on the season so far; for Minnesota Matthew Knies — a sophomore forward — has 13 goals (T-10th nationally) and 13 assists this season. On the Wolverines’ side of things, Mackie Samoskevich — also a sophomore forward — has 13 goals (T-10th nationally) and 11 assists thus far in 2022-23.

Minnesota goalie Justen Close — a senior — boasts a .925 save percentage (6th nationally) and a 1.97 goals against average (7th nationally) on the season. Conversely, Michigan goaltender Erik Portillo has a .908 save percentage and a 2.96 goals against average. Both goalies are two of the best in the nation; however, Close is having a far better year on the stat sheet. Close has played in 21 games this year, while Portillo has played in 19.

If Michigan wants a shot at catching Minnesota in the Big Ten Championship race, the Wolverines need to sweep the Gophers and get back to 7-7 (.500) in conference play. While it is not likely that U-M caches Minnesota regardless, there is always the possibility that Michigan can pull it off. Regardless, a series sweep would do wonders for the Wolverines in the current standings.

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Stats: College Hockey News

CJ has covered college athletics in paid roles for around five years, including numerous sports and beats. His most recent work revolves largely around Penn State and Michigan football and basketball as a member of the credentialed media at both schools. Right now, CJ writes for Blue by Ninety, where he also serves as the site's credentialed football reporter. He also does some credentialed basketball coverage. Previously, CJ has made stops with sites like GBMWolverine, Saturday Blitz, Steeler Nation, and more.