Friday, March 10, 2017

Pregame Blog: Minnesota's chance to make history + Gophers-MSU Line Combinations

Friday's Game Info

Michigan State at #5 Minnesota

Date: March 10, 2017
Time: 6:30 pm CT (7:30 pm ET)
Place: Mariucci Arena in Minneapolis, MN
TV: ESPNEWS (Kevin Brown and Sean Ritchlin)
Stream: Watch ESPN (Free for cable subscribers)
Radio: 1500 ESPN (Wally Shaver and Frank Mazzocco)
Nate is covering for tonight: St. Paul Pioneer Press

The Gophers can make history this weekend with any combination of four points won by Minnesota or lost by Wisconsin.

By doing that - and for those scoreboard watching the Badgers' game against Ohio State tonight starts half an hour later - Minnesota will win its fourth straight Big Ten regular season title and sixth overall dating back to 2011-12 in the WCHA. (The Gophers shared the 2012-13 title with St. Cloud State.) No team has ever won six straight conference regular season titles.

Regardless of your thoughts on the Big Ten and Minnesota playing in a six-team conference, winning one, let alone six straight regular season titles, is an impressive feat.

It's hard to be consistent in college hockey.

That goes double these days where two, possibly three of the 2016 Frozen Four teams likely won't make the NCAA Tournament and will see long streaks snapped. (Not even champions are safe. Union hasn't made it back since beating the Gophers in 2014.) With early departures and more parity teams' windows to compete are getting shorter and shorter.

Look at the other Big Ten teams. Each has gone through changes, highs and lows, and years where they are competitive.

Over the six year stretch Penn State went from not existing as a Division 1 men's hockey team to potentially reaching the NCAA Tournament. Wisconsin is rebounding from hitting rock bottom. When Minnesota's streak began the Badgers were touching the sky in terms of success.

Michigan State wishes it could rebound, spending the majority of the stretch doing so with various success. Ohio State replaced a coach during that time and now has one who went through his own recruiting cycle.

Michigan, meanwhile, started the stretch as the model of consistency. The Wolverines had not missed the NCAA Tournament in over 2 decades. Since then there's been close calls, a great team last year that featured one of the top offenses in recent memory, and a team this year which has struggled due to early departures and injuries.

Minnesota? The Gophers chug along consistently. Some years are better than others. (Honestly Michigan was the best team in the Big Ten in 2015-16.) Minnesota continues to put itself in position to stay near the top of the conference. So far it's been successful.


Mike Szmatula skated this week, but remains out for the third consecutive weekend with a lower body injury.

"He's getting closer, but he's not quite there. There's no question in my mind that we'll have him back before the end of the year," said Don Lucia during this week's availability. "We hope to get him back next week so he can get some games in before the NCAAs."

Jack Ramsey gets an opportunity, reunited with Darian Romanko and Brent Gates Jr. (the original iteration of this year's "blue line") on the Gophers' third forward group. Joey Marooney, who had that chance, moves back to the fourth line.

University of Minnesota Golden Gophers Line Combinations

Rem Pitlick (#15) - Justin Kloos (#25) - Tyler Sheehy (#22)
Leon Bristedt (#18)- Vinni Lettieri (#19) - Taylor Cammarata (#13)
Brent Gates Jr. (#10) - Darian Romanko (#26) - Jack Ramsey (#16)
Connor Reilly (#21) - Ryan Norman (#23) - Joey Marooney (#12)

Jake Bischoff (#28) - Ryan Lindgren (#5)
Jack Sadek (#2) - Steve Johnson (#4)
Ryan Zuhsldorf (#20) - Ryan Collins (#6)

Eric Schierhorn (#37)
Nick Lehr (#34)
Brock Kautz (#1)

On the Michigan State side, John Lethemon is listed ahead of Ed Minney, who started both games in net when the Spartans hosted Minnesota in December.

Michigan State University Spartans

Taro Hirose (#17) - Sam Saliba (#10) - Mason Appleton (#27)
Brennan Sanford (#13) - Thomas Ebbing (#28) - Joe Cox (#21)
Villiam Haag (#26) - Patrick Khodorenko (#55) - Dylan Pavelek (#14)
Logan Lambdin (#71) - Connor Wood (#9) - Cody Milan (#23)

Carson Gatt (#18) - Zach Osburn (#2)
Anthony Scarsella (#4) - Rhett Holland (#11)
Jerad Rosburg (#57)  - Mitch Elliot (#52)

John Lethemon (#31)
Ed Minney (#45)

Remember you can follow me for live updates from Mariucci Arena on Twitter @gopherstate.

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