ST. PAUL, Minn. — Minnesota coach Don Lucia was running down the list of key areas his team will need in order to compete with No. 7 Michigan in the finals of the Big Ten tournament on Saturday.
Lucia then recognized the most important aspect of Saturday’s championship game: the Gophers are still playing.
Big Ten tournament
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Minnesota (20-16), which won the regular season title, will face Michigan (23-7-5) in Saturday’s championship game after the Wolverines ousted Ohio State 7-2.
“We get to play tomorrow,” Lucia said. “We have an opportunity to hang a banner tomorrow. We have an opportunity to punch our own ticket, and earn it.”
The Gophers need to win to advance to the NCAA tournament. Michigan is a lock for an at-large bid if it doesn’t win the Big Ten title game.
Ohio State (14-18-4) was hoping to keep its own postseason alive. Goaltender Christian Frey made 41 saves but couldn’t halt Minnesota’s momentum in the third. Kevin Miller scored his fourth goal of the season for the Buckeyes and David Gust added his 11th of the season.
“I think our guys emptied the tank and maybe we ran out of gas a little too early tonight,” Buckeyes coach Steve Rohlik said. “But I’m proud of the group, proud of the guys in the locker room. They never quit to the end.”
The Gophers’ season appeared on the brink, as well.
Miller’s first-period tally had Ohio State looking to upset the Big Ten’s top seed.
But Tyler Sheehy scored 1 minute, 36 seconds into the third for Minnesota, followed by a goal from Vinny Lettieri and two by Taylor Cammarata as the Gophers advanced to set up another meeting with the Wolverines.
“We knew we what we needed to do in order to play tomorrow,” said Sheehy, who added two assists. “I think it was important for us to get a goal early and feed off that. The goal gave us a little bit of energy, and then after that we were kind of rolling from there.”
Michigan and Minnesota met in last year’s Big Ten championship game in Detroit, with the Gophers winning 4-2. The two teams split four games during the regular season, with each team winning one game on the opponent’s ice.
The Wolverines held an 18-11 scoring advantage in the three games, but the Gophers won the final game 3-2 in overtime.
“I’ve always enjoyed playing Michigan,” Lucia said. “They play like we like to play. They want to get up and down the rink. They want to make plays. They obviously have tremendous high-end skill. We don’t have a line like they have or as deep offensively as they are.
“I figured if we’re going to get to Saturday, we’re going to be playing Michigan. They’re just too talented, and as talented as anyone, I think, in the country.”