Sponsored By
An organization or individual has paid for the creation of this work but did not approve or review it.



Familiarity and fireworks as Gophers, Wolverines meet again with B1G tournament title at stake

Both rosters are filled with future NHLers and many are former teammates as Minnesota tries to hang its second banner of the season with a win in the Big Ten tournament title game versus Michigan.

Minnesota's Charlie Strobel fought for open ice while sandwiched between a pair of Michigan defenders in the first period of the Gophers win over the Wolverines on Friday, Nov. 18, 2022 at Yost Ice Arena in Ann Arbor, Mich.
Contributed / Big Ten Hockey

MINNEAPOLIS — In less than a week, all of the most advanced bracketologists predict that the Minnesota Gophers will be at a NCAA regional site, preparing to face an opponent that the current players have never before seen, from a school that most fans couldn’t locate on a map.

But before all of that, there is a trophy up for grabs, with perhaps the most familiar of opponents standing in the way.

Minnesota and Michigan have a hockey rivalry that dates back a century, to Jan. 22, 1923, when the Gophers posted a 2-0 win in Minneapolis. But in terms of the history that dates back to around the time of the pandemic, they may be even more familiar. Minnesota star forward Matthew Knies, who was named the Big Ten’s player of the year earlier in the week, estimates that he has been teammates with six or seven of the Wolverines at various points in his young hockey career.

“I know a good chunk of their team. I’ve been on the World Junior team with a lot of them, seeing them around, and we play them almost every other weekend in this conference,” Knies said. “We know each other well.”

Minnesota forward Jimmy Snuggerud moved the puck past Michigan defender Jay Keranen during the Gophers' 4-3 overtime win over the Wolverines on Friday, Jan. 20, 2023 at 3M Arena at Mariucci in Minneapolis.
Matt Krohn / Gopher Sports

Gophers captain Brock Faber said he has shared a locker room with Wolverines like Luke Hughes, Jacob Truscott and Dylan Duke previously.


With that in mind, after meeting head-to-head four times in the regular season, there is not a great deal of scouting or detailed video breakdown needed to prepare for that team in maize and blue.

“They look like Michigan to me,” Gophers coach Bob Motzko said, noting that this year’s team under interim coach Brandon Naurato plays a very similar style to the 2022 Wolverines — a team that won the Big Ten tournament and advanced to the Frozen Four under Mel Pearson, who was fired in early August.

"We've been seeing that for decades," Motzko said of the Wolverines' traditional style. "Get off to fast starts ... they play north-south great, tons of talent. It looks like Michigan."

Since the calendar flipped to March, the Wolverines have been an offensive juggernaut, scoring 20 goals in their three previous playoff games. Both rosters are loaded with NHL draft picks and the game will feature three of the 10 finalists for the Hobey Baker Award in Knies and Logan Cooley from the Gophers and Adam Fantilli from the Wolverines. The Michigan coach predicts an on-ice product reflective of that talent, played in an atmosphere that is hard to beat in the college hockey world.

“I think there's mutual respect for how they play the game and how we play the game. It's just good hockey,” said Naurato, who was an assistant coach under Pearson for last season’s 4-3 Wolverines win in this game in Minneapolis. “And that's not a knock on anyone else. But it should be a really, really fun game to watch and last year that place was jammed with 10,000 people there for warm ups.”

Michigan vs Minnesota
Minnesota defenseman Jackson LaCombe let out a yell after his third period goal versus Michigan sent the game to overtime on Friday, Jan. 20, 2023 at 3M Arena at Mariucci in Minneapolis.
Matt Krohn / Gophers Sports

Testing all of that Michigan offense will be a Gophers back end that Motzko expects will be fully healthy and ready to go. That means in addition to Faber (who played in the playoff opener after a flu bug caused him to drop 14 pounds in a week) and Ryan Chesley (who returned last week from a hand injury that had him out of the lineup for four games) the Gophers expect that senior All America defenseman Jackson LaCombe will be in uniform and ready to go. LaCombe had missed the previous three games after a non-contact lower body injury incurred at a team practice.

Factor in a healthy Gophers defense, an explosive Gophers offense and an opponent in Michigan that can shoot and score from anywhere, and the title clash has the makings of some memorable, explosive hockey, with the winner hoisting a trophy when the final horn sounds.

“These are the fun ones. Obviously it’s turned into quite the rivalry,” Faber said. “They don’t like us. We don’t like them. It’s fun. It’s going to be loud in there this weekend and we’ve just got to play our game.”


After leading the Wolverines to a Big Ten tournament title and the Frozen Four in his first season, the coach's "interim" tag was dropped and a five -year contract is being finalized.
As he heads to a fifth NCAA Frozen Four as a coach or assistant, Bob Motzko will draw on lessons learned earlier this season about avoiding "vacation mode" when they get to Florida.
An immigrant from Latvia, Nagobads worked with the Minnesota Gophers hockey program for 34 seasons and served as Team USA's doctor in five Winter Olympics, including the Miracle on Ice.
The three-time Spencer Penrose Award winner, handed to the national college coach of the year, Hastings’ teams racked up an impressive 11-year run.
In bringing Minnesota State Mankato coach Mike Hastings to Wisconsin as the new boss, the Badgers might be trying to replicate the formula Minnesota used so successfully five years ago.
Taking over the Michigan program less than two months before the season started, the Wolverines' new coach has them playing with confidence, for each other, and seeking their first title in 25 years.
Western Michigan's Pat Ferschweiler, Michigan Tech's Joe Shawhan and Brandon Naurato of Michigan also up for Spencer Penrose Award.
Isaac Howard is leaving UMD after one season to go play for Michigan State and his former coach at the USA Hockey National Team Development Program.
Hockey might be getting safer, thanks in part to better gear and smarter play, but also thanks to people like the Minnesota Gophers' trainer, who is a trusted member of the team in his 14th season.
Minnesota took a third period lead on a highlight reel goal, but could not hang on, and Michigan rallied to win the conference tournament for the second consecutive year.

B1G championship details

Minnesota and Michigan will face off at 7 p.m. CT on Saturday evening at 3M Arena at Mariucci. The game will be televised by Big Ten Network, with Dan Kelly and former Gophers defenseman Ben Clymer on the call.

On radio, the Gophers can be heard on 1130 AM / 103.5 FM in the Twin Cities with Wally Shaver and Frank Mazzocco in their 11th season together describing the action.

The Gophers are 153-134-18 all-time versus the Wolverines, which includes a 3-1 mark this season. Minnesota won a pair of games at Yost Ice Arena in November, when both rosters were reduced due to illness. The teams split a pair of overtime games in Minneapolis in January.

The championship game was completely sold out by Monday of this week. As of Friday morning, tickets on the secondary market were priced from around $90 to more than $600. Gophers athletic marketing folks have declared Saturday a “Gold Out” and are encouraging Minnesota fans to wear gold to the rink. Each of the arena's 10,000 seats was adorned with a gold pom-pom as of the Gophers' practice on Thursday.

Jess Myers covers college hockey, as well as outdoors, general sports and travel, for The Rink Live and the Forum Communications family of publications. He came to FCC in 2018 after three decades of covering sports as a freelancer for a variety of publications, while working full time in politics and media relations. A native of Warroad, Minn. (the real Hockeytown USA), Myers has a degree in journalism/communications from the University of Minnesota Duluth. He lives in the Twin Cities. Contact Jess via email at jrmyers@forumcomm.com, or find him on Twitter via @JessRMyers. English speaker.
What to read next
Packed arena, band playing and two talented teams battling for a banner will underscore the special nature of college hockey on Saturday when Michigan visits Minnesota for the Big Ten tourney title.
College hockey was frustrating for the first few months the Minnesota Gophers star spent in maroon and gold, but getting used to the opponents' attention and learning to tame his fire are working.
After hanging a conference title banner already, the Minnesota Gophers grabbed three of the Big Ten's five major awards, for the seven-team league's top player, coach and defensive player of 2022-23.
It had been two weeks since they had played a game, but after a bit of a slow start, the Minnesota Gophers found their legs and found their way back to the conference tourney title game.
Get Local