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03 Feb 17:  Rem Pitlick (Minnesota - 15). The University of Minnesota Golden Gophers host the Penn State Nittany Lions in a B1G matchup at Mariucci Arena in Minneapolis, MN (Jim Rosvold/University of Minnesota)
Rem Pitlick was the overtime hero for Minnesota as the Gophers swept Penn State last weekend (photo: Jim Rosvold/University of Minnesota).

It hasn’t been smooth sailing, but this weekend, Minnesota will host its shared-border rival at home with a chance to put the regular-season conference race to bed.

The Gophers, who hold a three-point lead over Wisconsin in the Big Ten standings and have a 90 percent chance of winning the regular-season crown, will host the Badgers on Friday and Saturday at Mariucci Arena.

Minnesota is 9-3-0 in 2017 and has won six of their last seven games. The latest win was an overtime thriller Saturday where the Gopher tied the game twice in the final three minutes of the third period, including a Justin Kloos goal with three seconds left, before Rem Pitlick scored his fourth goal of the weekend to win the game in overtime.

“It was obviously rewarding,” Minnesota coach Don Lucia said of the win. “You’re fortunate, a little bit of luck has to go your way too, when those things happen. Whether it’s the goal to tie it off a faceoff with a few seconds to go and even I think our winning goal in overtime when (Pitlick) shot it, I think it went off somebody and went in. You want to shoot in overtime because you never know what’s going to happen.”

Kloos’ goal came with goaltender Erick Schierhorn pulled for the extra attacker. That’s something that the Gophers have managed to do four times this season, including twice in the same game against St. Lawrence.

Lucia attributed the feat to the team’s experience.

“I think that helps, guys that have been in that situation before,” he said. “The guys know what we’re doing and what we’re trying to do, and to make sure we get pucks to the net. If you’ve got seven seconds left on a faceoff, you know you can’t take a lot of time, you’ve just got to get it to the net as quickly as you can.”

Pitlick notched his first career hat trick during Minnesota’s 6-3 over the Nittany Lions on Friday. The freshman forward, who plays on a line with Kloos and Tyler Sheehy, now has 10 goals and 13 assists this season. Lucia said his improved play is a result of moving from center to wing and playing on the line that he’s on.

“That’s a good line with Kloos and Sheehy and they complement each other well,” he said of Pitlick. “Something we’ve talked to (him) about, he can shoot as good as anybody on our team and we’re trying to get him to shoot the puck more because he does have such a good, hard, shot. Sometimes those freshmen, they want to defer to their line mates. It’s nice to see him shooting and getting the reward.”

This weekend, the Gophers will wrap up their regular-season series with the Badgers. The two teams split a two-game series at Kohl Center in January. Lucia said that he thinks both Badgers’ goaltenders, Matt Jurusik and Jack Berry, are playing well at the moment, but that’s not the only thing one has to worry about when it comes to Wisconsin.

“They’re starting to mature and grow, each goalie is giving them a chance to win when they play one night a weekend,” he said. “Up front, they’re very deep offensively. You’ve got two first-round picks in your forward group, that makes a difference, but they have three lines that can score. They’re really good on special teams if you look at what their power play numbers and penalty kill numbers are. That’s a good recipe for success.”

Lucia said that there were signs that the Badgers would be improved this season at the end of last year.

“Those young guys were starting to grow up, they were a much better team at the end of the year than what they were in the early and middle part,” he said. “All those guys came back and that extra year of maturity, like our team, makes a big difference when you have a lot of young guys playing. You take your lumps and then they come back the next year a little bit more confident and a little more mature.”

Minnesota may be in the catbird seat right now with a clicking offense and both special teams units performing well. That being said, its head coach said there is one big area that the Gophers can get better.

“When you get to this time of the year, you’ve got to win with defense rather than offense,” Lucia said. “Offense is going to come and go and you’ve got to be able to lock people down. That’s the biggest area we’ve got to grow and continue to grow is to continue working at getting that goals against average down. Like we did against Penn State a couple weeks back where we gave up one and two. That, to me, is more important from here on out than scoring four or five.”

Along with defense, Minnesota’s bench boss would like it to stop assisting opponent’s goals.

“Turning pucks over, that’s led to a lot of goals against the last month or month and a half,” Lucia said. “We’re putting pucks in the wrong areas, like the first goals against Penn State on Saturday we just drop a puck and they come on a four-on-two. No. 1, we can’t beat ourselves. It’s hard enough to win games, let’s not spot anybody one or two goals. I’d like to see us start better and not turn so many pucks over.”

Wisconsin welcomes another challenge

Most expected the Badgers to be a better team this season, but the fact that Tony Granato’s squad is in a title race with three weekends remaining is impressive.

Two games at Mariucci is a tall order for any road team, but Wisconsin has not backed down from any road test this season. The Badgers are 7-2-0 away from Kohl Center this season.

“Our team this year has competed no matter what situation we’ve been put in,” Granato said at Wisconsin’s press conference this week. “Obviously, this is another challenge, we’ve talked about that a lot this year leading up to each weekend on different kinds of challenges we’re going to face. We’re playing the best right now, as far as going into Minnesota knowing the kind of run that they’re on. Our guys have looked forward to these challenges all year, and this will be another one.”

What has led to the success on the road?

“I don’t really know…it’s been impressive,” Granato said. “Even some of the games we’ve lost on the road, the Denver game in particular, was one of the best games of the season.”

Granato has played both Jurusik and Berry in net since the former came back from an injury, and he said he plans on doing the same this weekend.

“Both guys have been really good for us and both guys deserve to stay in the rotation,” he said. “It’s worked out well, both guys this weekend at different times in the games were when they had to be.”

As for avoiding the pressure that could come with facing a rival on the road with an opportunity to capture first place in the conference, the head coach doesn’t think that will be too big of an issue.

“You’re always going to get excited to play Minnesota, no matter what the records are, no matter where the games are being played,” Granato said. “The bottom line is we positioned ourselves at this point of the season, we said it the other night, these are meaningful games. It’s nice to play meaningful games at this time of the year.

“The Gophers are a heck of a team, (but) I think we’ve got a heck of a team here. It should be some great hockey.”

Three Stars of the Week

First star — Minnesota freshman forward Rem Pitlick: Pitlick notched his first career hat trick during Minnesota’s 6-3 victory over Penn State on Friday. He also had an assist in the game. He scored the game-winning goal on Saturday. This is his first career Big Ten weekly award.

Second star — Wisconsin freshman forward Trent Frederic: Frederick had two multi-goal games against Michigan last weekend. He scored the first goal of Friday’s game and added the game-winner later in the contest. He scored two more goals on Saturday, including one eight seconds into the game, which is the fastest goal to start a game in school history. This is his second career Big Ten weekly award.

Third star — Minnesota senior forward Justin Kloos: Kloos had two goals and an assist in Minnesota’s two-game sweep over Penn State. He scored the game-winning goal on Friday and tied the game late in the third period of Saturday’s contest. This is his seventh career Big Ten weekly award.

B1G in the Poll

No. 4 Minnesota, No. 11 Penn State, No. 12 Ohio State and No. 19 Wisconsin represent the Big Ten in this week’s USCHO.com Division I Men’s Poll.

My ballot

1. Denver
2. Harvard
3. Minnesota-Duluth
4. Minnesota
5. Boston University
6. Massachusetts-Lowell
7. Union
8. Western Michigan
9. Cornell
10. Ohio State
11. Notre Dame
12. Boston College
13. Providence
14. Penn State
15. North Dakota
16. Vermont
17. Air Force
18. St. Cloud State
19. Wisconsin
20. Omaha

This week’s matchups

Wisconsin at Minnesota (Friday and Saturday, Mariucci Arena)

Penn State at Michigan State (Friday and Saturday, Munn Ice Arena)

Michigan at Ohio State (Friday and Saturday, Value City Arena)

  • gimruis

    I don’t think Minnesota really gives a hoot about another regular season Big Ten crown. Certainly they’re better than they were the past few seasons because they’ve won some decent non-conference games, but I could see them running into trouble against a lower seed from another conference in the NCAA tournament.

    • UofMGoldenChokers

      They are improved, but they still struggle with in conference teams. A lot of their games are one goal games, minus any empty net goals.

      • MNGopherGuru

        I bet you would jumping for joy if ND was winning their games by one goal. Last time I checked a win is a win.

        • UofMGoldenChokers

          Yeah, a win is a win, but when you are only winning games by 1 goal against teams they should be blowing out each game, that is not good. Like I said, they are greatly improved over the last couple of years, but they are far from the MN teams between 2002 and about 2008

          • gimruis

            Well like I said in my initial post, they’re better than they were the past few years solely based on some improved non-conference play. Their record against the NCHC is not very good though. Its 1-3-1 having played St Cloud (2), UND (2), and Duluth (1).

          • MN_Wild

            0-3 vs the teams who will still be in the NCHC in a few years. Terrible record.

          • UofMGoldenChokers

            Still? If you are implying UND is going to up and move to the big ten, you’re highly mistaken.

          • Cash

            Why are you even on here? You said the big ten conference is the worst conference. So why are you reading about them? The fighting hawks are unable to beat a big ten team so according to you, they are one of the worst teams in college hockey. And no one cares that they travel so well. If I lived in North Dakota durning the winter, I would look for any excuse to get out. Even if it’s watching a bad fighting hawks team. As of now, they will not even be able to defend their first ever NCAA championship.

          • I love this guy so freaking much

          • Hockey21

            Agreed. It’s really quite funny at this point.

          • UofMGoldenCh0kers

            Do not knock the importance of having a fan base that travels well. Couple that with strength of schedule and quality shots on goals and you have a perennial power which is what we have here in Fargo.

          • Roman Reigns

            UND= not in NCAA tourny
            NDSU Bison lost in footballnot a good year for you

          • UofMGoldenCh0kers

            It’s always a good year to be in Southern Canada — not sure what you’re talking about.

          • UofMGoldenCh0kers

            Agreed — it is a documented fact that North Dakota has applied to become a Canadian Province to avoid all the immigration issues the UND hockey team faces are a yearly basis. Once that happens, UND will join NFC North hockey division.

          • Brian

            There are no conference games against teams you should be blowing out, no matter what conference. What a weak argument.

        • UofMGoldenCh0kers

          North Dakota routinely wins their games by 6 – 7 goals every time they lace up the skates — thats just the way the Fighting Sioux Hawks roll. Plus, by definition, UND wins are woth more — look it up and live with it. I have own rituals for when UND win that involve me dancing around a fire wearing nothing but my TJ Oshie jersey.

          • Roman Reigns

            so you like a one trick pony nhl player and you dont get to dance much this year my bet is you sit in your moms basement listen to your bieber CD and wish you could have a girlfriend

          • UofMGoldenCh0kers

            JOkes on you — mom’s trailer doesn’t have a basement but I can watch every Fighting Sioux Hawk game that the little rabbit ears bring in our TV. Sometimes mom let’s me have popcorn and water during the game — it’s really cool. She said someday I can change my handle on here to something like “Dean Ambrose” or “Seth Rollins”, and then we can be brothers. How about it bro.

    • jdhockeyboyz

      Disagree that they don’t care about RS title. Do you really think they want to watch the Badgers win the hardware? That said, there are loftier goals to be reached. Standing in the way of reaching those goals seems to be inconsistent goaltending, less than stellar team defensive play, and the nasty habit of handing their opponent an easy early goal off a turnover. I don’t think this team looks NC level, but they don’t give up when they fall behind and they have played well outside the conference, except the St. Cloud series early. To me they don’t look less worthy than say Yale or Providence recently. They’re not in the class of ND last year.

      • gimruis

        Fair enough. Maybe not caring is not the correct way to put it. And then allowing Wisconsin to have it I’m sure makes it worse. A better way to put it might be “indifferent.”

  • gimruis

    I don’t think Minnesota really gives a hoot about another regular season Big Ten crown. Certainly they’re better than they were the past few seasons because they’ve won some decent non-conference games, but I could see them running into trouble against a lower seed from another conference in the NCAA tournament.

    • UofMGoldenChokers

      They are improved, but they still struggle with in conference teams. A lot of their games are one goal games, minus any empty net goals.

      • MNGopherGuru

        I bet you would jumping for joy if ND was winning their games by one goal. Last time I checked a win is a win.

        • UofMGoldenChokers

          Yeah, a win is a win, but when you are only winning games by 1 goal against teams they should be blowing out each game, that is not good. Like I said, they are greatly improved over the last couple of years, but they are far from the MN teams between 2002 and about 2008

          • gimruis

            Well like I said in my initial post, they’re better than they were the past few years solely based on some improved non-conference play. Their record against the NCHC is not very good though. Its 1-3-1 having played St Cloud (2), UND (2), and Duluth (1).

          • MN_Wild

            0-3 vs the teams who will still be in the NCHC in a few years. Terrible record.

          • UofMGoldenChokers

            Still? If you are implying UND is going to up and move to the big ten, you’re highly mistaken.

          • Cash

            Why are you even on here? You said the big ten conference is the worst conference. So why are you reading about them? The fighting hawks are unable to beat a big ten team so according to you, they are one of the worst teams in college hockey. And no one cares that they travel so well. If I lived in North Dakota durning the winter, I would look for any excuse to get out. Even if it’s watching a bad fighting hawks team. As of now, they will not even be able to defend their first ever NCAA championship.

          • I love this guy so freaking much

          • Hockey21

            Agreed. It’s really quite funny at this point.

          • UofMGoldenCh0kers

            Do not knock the importance of having a fan base that travels well. Couple that with strength of schedule and quality shots on goals and you have a perennial power which is what we have here in Fargo.

          • Roman Reigns

            UND= not in NCAA tourny
            NDSU Bison lost in footballnot a good year for you

          • UofMGoldenCh0kers

            It’s always a good year to be in Southern Canada — not sure what you’re talking about.

          • UofMGoldenCh0kers

            Agreed — it is a documented fact that North Dakota has applied to become a Canadian Province to avoid all the immigration issues the UND hockey team faces are a yearly basis. Once that happens, UND will join NFC North hockey division.

          • Brian

            There are no conference games against teams you should be blowing out, no matter what conference. What a weak argument.

        • UofMGoldenCh0kers

          North Dakota routinely wins their games by 6 – 7 goals every time they lace up the skates — thats just the way the Fighting Sioux Hawks roll. Plus, by definition, UND wins are woth more — look it up and live with it. I have own rituals for when UND win that involve me dancing around a fire wearing nothing but my TJ Oshie jersey.

          • Roman Reigns

            so you like a one trick pony nhl player and you dont get to dance much this year my bet is you sit in your moms basement listen to your bieber CD and wish you could have a girlfriend

          • UofMGoldenCh0kers

            JOkes on you — mom’s trailer doesn’t have a basement but I can watch every Fighting Sioux Hawk game that the little rabbit ears bring in our TV. Sometimes mom let’s me have popcorn and water during the game — it’s really cool. She said someday I can change my handle on here to something like “Dean Ambrose” or “Seth Rollins”, and then we can be brothers. How about it bro.

    • jdhockeyboyz

      Disagree that they don’t care about RS title. Do you really think they want to watch the Badgers win the hardware? That said, there are loftier goals to be reached. Standing in the way of reaching those goals seems to be inconsistent goaltending, less than stellar team defensive play, and the nasty habit of handing their opponent an easy early goal off a turnover. I don’t think this team looks NC level, but they don’t give up when they fall behind and they have played well outside the conference, except the St. Cloud series early. To me they don’t look less worthy than say Yale or Providence recently. They’re not in the class of ND last year.

      • gimruis

        Fair enough. Maybe not caring is not the correct way to put it. And then allowing Wisconsin to have it I’m sure makes it worse. A better way to put it might be “indifferent.”

  • Wisco sweep!!!!! #ONWISCONSON

    • Kramerica

      The goofs are going to beat Wisco so badly, Tony Granato will drop his can if natty ice!

      • If that is in fact what he is drinking on the bench, it’s worth allowing this to happen

    • jmsptrk

      Congrats to you & yer stinkin Badgers on the improvement. I’m impressed by how quickly Granato has been able to right the ship. Good to have the Badgers coming back to prominence. While I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t (at least a little) fun to watch Red squirm for a few years – I know people loved it when my Maroon & Gold did – I much prefer this. Good games between two historic rivals. Congrats. Hope to see you in the tourney!

  • Wisco sweep!!!!! #ONWISCONSON

    • Kramerica

      The goofs are going to beat Wisco so badly, Tony Granato will drop his can if natty ice!

      • If that is in fact what he is drinking on the bench, it’s worth allowing this to happen

    • jmsptrk

      Congrats to you & yer stinkin Badgers on the improvement. I’m impressed by how quickly Granato has been able to right the ship. Good to have the Badgers coming back to prominence. While I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t (at least a little) fun to watch Red squirm for a few years – I know people loved it when my Maroon & Gold did – I much prefer this. Good games between two historic rivals. Congrats. Hope to see you in the tourney!

  • Charlie

    The homer in you is really showing, isn’t it Drew? One game separates the teams with 6 games to go and only one of the two is “…angling to have chance at Big Ten regular-season title this coming weekend”. Really?

  • Charlie

    The homer in you is really showing, isn’t it Drew? One game separates the teams with 6 games to go and only one of the two is “…angling to have chance at Big Ten regular-season title this coming weekend”. Really?