Andrew Sinelli (22) battles Penn State's Casey Bailey during the Wolverines' win last Friday night. (Abby Drey / Centre Daily Times)
Ann Arbor – Michigan’s hockey team travels to No. 2 Minnesota for a weekend series, trying to stay in the hunt for the inaugural Big Ten championship.
The series begins Friday night (9 p.m., BTN) and continues Saturday (8 p.m., Fox Sports Detroit).
Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan are in a battle for the top spot in the league’s first season with the Gophers holding a four-point lead on Wisconsin and six points ahead of the Wolverines with one month left. All three teams would make the NCAA tournament if the season ended today.
This is Michigan’s first series with the Gophers this season and the first meeting between the teams since Nov. 28, 2010, a 3-1 win by the host Gophers.
The No. 10 Wolverines have played just two home games since Dec. 11, but will play six of their final eight at Yost Ice Arena, including a series with the Gophers to conclude the regular season March 14-15.
“At the beginning of the season I predicted Minnesota would win the Big Ten, followed by Wisconsin and then us battling with Michigan State and Ohio State for third,” said Michigan coach Red Berenson. “Minnesota is playing well and they are very good at home (11-2-2).”
The Wolverines swept Wisconsin at Yost Jan. 31-Feb. 1, including a shootout win in the finale. Wisconsin went on to sweep Minnesota last weekend in Madison to tighten the standings while Michigan split with Penn State.
Now, the Wolverines will be playing on the Olympic sheet again, 15 feet wider than on a normal sheet. They have played four games on that type of surface, earning a tie and overtime win at New Hampshire early in the season, then getting swept at Wisconsin in January.
Berenson likes how the Wolverines have played lately -- 5-1 in last six games, including the 7-3 win over Penn State last Friday. That was Berenson’s 784th career victory, putting him ahead of Rick Comley for fourth all-time. He wasn't pleased with the 4-0 loss to the Nittany Lions in the finale, though.
"Their goalie just played better than ours that night," Berenson said of Matt Skoff's 32-save shutout and freshman Zach Nagelvoort's rare off-night, giving up three first-period goals and getting pulled from the game. "We had a chance early with the game at 1-0 and Alex Guptill was stopped on a breakaway.
"I feel JT Compher and Andrew Copp are playing well up front and Zach Hyman had his best weekend (two goals Friday). (Freshman) Michael Downing is playing well on defense."
Guptill's power-play goal on Friday snapped Michigan's 0-for-18 slump with the extra man. Berenson said Guptill is questionable for the Minnesota series due to an upper-body injury.
Michigan State, fifth in the standings, plays at last place Penn State this weekend.