Minnesota may be the top seed in the Big Ten hockey tournament this weekend, but Michigan boasts some firepower of its own.
Player of the year.
Defensive player of the year.
Coach of the year.
So, despite the tournament being played in Minnesota’s backyard (St. Paul), Michigan could be seen as the team to beat.
The Wolverines and Golden Gophers split four games, but Minnesota won the Big Ten regular-season title by one point thanks to a 3-2 overtime victory Feb. 26.
“It came down to Minnesota having to win their last home game and they took advantage,” said Michigan coach Red Berenson, the conference coach of the year. “Now we look forward to the playoffs.”
And when the playoffs start Thursday — Michigan and Minnesota earned first-round byes — Berenson has some pop on his side.
Freshman Kyle Connor is the nation’s leader in goals (30) and scoring (61), earning Big Ten player of the year honors; and sophomore defenseman Zach Werenski was named defensive player of the year.
Michigan plays the Penn State-Wisconsin winner Friday.
Hildebrand coming on
Michigan State coach Tom Anastos has to be encouraged by the play of senior goaltender Jake Hildebrand, last year’s Big Ten player of the year.
During the team’s 5-5-2 run, Hildebrand lowered his goals-against to 3.11 from 3.39 while upping his save percentage to .904 from .894.
“Hildie has been more himself in the last third of the season than he probably was earlier in the season,” said Anastos, who is 71-97-20 at Michigan State. “He’s playing with a lot of confidence now, and when he has confidence, our team plays with a lot of confidence in front of him.”
And, Hildebrand will have to be at his best against Ohio State today.
“They play with lots of speed and they have good skill on their team,” Anastos said of the Buckeyes, who swept the No. 7 Wolverines, 7-4, 6-5, earlier this month.
The Ohio State-Michigan State winner plays Minnesota on Friday.
Three for Hobey Baker
Three of the 10 semifinalists for the Hobey Baker Award, given to the top player in hockey, play on Michigan’s top line — Connor (Shelby Township), junior Tyler Motte (St. Clair) and junior JT Compher.
It’s the third time one school has had three semifinalists, the second for Michigan (Boston College is the other).
The three finalists will be announced March 31, and the winner will be revealed at the Frozen Four on April 8.
Top-seeded Michigan Tech faces No. 4 Ferris State in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association semifinals Friday at Van Andel Arena in Grand Rapids. The first semifinal pits No. 2 Minnesota State-Mankato and No. 3 Bowling Green.
Michigan Tech (23-8-5), under former Michigan assistant Mel Pearson, is on a 12-1-3 run.
BIG TEN TOURNAMENT
At Xcel Energy Center, St. Paul, Minn.
TV: All games on BTN
Game 1: 3 Penn State vs. 6 Wisconsin, 5 p.m.
Game 2: 4 Ohio State vs. 5 Michigan State, 8:30 p.m.
Game 3: 2 Michigan vs. Game 1 winner, 5 p.m.
Game 4: 1 Minnesota vs. Game 2 winner, 8:30 p.m.
Game 5: Game 3 winner vs. Game 4 winner, 8 p.m.