Michigan wins second straight Big Ten title against Minnesota, 4-3

MINNEAPOLIS — In many ways, it was like deja vu for Michigan’s No. 4 hockey team.

Almost exactly a year after winning their second Big Ten championship, the Wolverines (24-11-3 overall) were set to face the nation’s best — No. 1 Minnesota (26-8-1) — once again, in the same exuberant arena, with the same tournament seeds and for the same trophy.

Details, stars and even coaching staffs had changed in the process, but there was an overwhelming sense of familiarity throughout the title fight. Two perennial powers, representing two fanatical hockey states but with only one trophy to win.

And as Michigan lifted that trophy for the second time in a row, the feeling of familiarity to the end was wrapped up. With a patient control-based offense, the Wolverines survived the Gophers’ blistering run and won their second straight Big Ten championship, 4-3.

For a contest featuring two of the most potent offenses in the nation, the night began with a conservative pace as neither Minnesota nor Michigan jumped in and took control of the action.

Seven minutes later, however, the Gophers took a break when sophomore defenseman Luke Hughes slammed a puck into forward Logan Cooley’s shin guards. Cooley took the puck the other way on a two-on-one run and played it against the ice for forward Brody Lamb who capitalized, giving Minnesota a 1-0 lead.

But for the remainder of the period, both teams began a feeling process and were stuck with zone entries.

In the second half however, the wait-and-see tactics were thrown out the window.

Michigan pressed early, retaining possession of the zone and moving pucks up and down, and three minutes in all paid off for freshman forward Rutger McGroarty as he tore through a top shelf of loose pucks. And 30 seconds later, back in net with a rebound off his stick, it again paid off for McGroarty who put his team ahead 2-1.

With two straight goals, McGroarty almost instantly turned the game on its head and put the Gophers on edge for the first time. And in danger, Minnesota returned to its run – for which the Wolverines had no answer.

Midway through the second period, a wayward pass from McGroarty in Michigan’s offensive zone ended up on the stick of forward Jimmy Snuggerud, who found Cooley with an open ice where he tied the game.

And again, it was the Gophers’ fiery run that put them back in the lead early in the third when forward Rhett Pitlick blasted his way through three Wolverines defenders and scored to give a 3 lead. -2 in Minnesota.

It didn’t last long though, as freshman forward Seamus Casey tied the deal minutes later with a standard shot, again built through sustained pressure. The Gophers were playing with speed, and Michigan was playing with patience, and as time ticked away, there was nothing to separate the approaches.

But with less than eight minutes left, sophomore forward Dylan Duke has etched his name in the history books. Playing with the puck in the offensive zone, freshman forward TJ Hughes barely kept a puck in play on the blue line and wired it to Duke standing squarely in front of the net. Duke dived to the right and buried a backhand puck to give the Wolverines a 4-3 lead.

And for the next eight minutes, Minnesota couldn’t find any speed. The rush that had worked so well at first faded, and his chances of desperation remained just that – desperation.

As the clock ticked down and the buzzer finally sounded with Michigan hoisting the championship trophy by a score of 4-3, the same as last year’s game, Gophers fans streamed for outings and the Wolverines on the ice ended up with the same powerful feeling:

Already seen.

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