Gophers prepapre for big series against Penn State as postseason draws closer

They’ve earned a spot in this week’s national poll and could clinch the Big Ten title, but Gopher hockey still has work to do to get to the National tournament

by Julianna Landis

     As the postseason draws closer for Gopher men’s hockey, there are more eyes on them as they now sit on top of the Big Ten standings and crack the national polls for the first time this season. But they’re still taking the season one weekend at a time. 

   This week in particular had a few notable accolades for the Gophers, Blake McLaughlin was named Big Ten Second Star of The Week after his weekend against Notre Dame, where he put up three points, including the game-winning goal in Saturday’s game. Head coach Bob Motzko said that McLaughlin had a strong weekend, exhibiting tireless play and hunting for the puck. 

 The team’s efforts against Notre Dame earned them a spot in the USCHO (US College Hockey Online) Poll, ranking 18th on the twenty-team list, where they were previously not ranked. And while earning a spot bodes well for the Gophers, there’s another ranking that has some Gophers concerned: the Pairwise. 

   Pairwise rankings rely on several different statistics to rank teams in a way that is similar to how the NCAA Selection Committee decides participants for the National tournament. Minnesota sits right on the brink, ranked 15th in a tournament that selects 16 teams. Senior defenseman Ryan Zuhlsdorf said that even with the possibility of the team clinching a Big Ten title, the team’s position in the Pairwise posed a risk to their offseason, “That’s real close, that’s way too risky… we need every game here, these last couple weekends.” Zuhlsdorf said. 

   Wins could not be more crucial in their upcoming series against Penn State, who are tied for first in the Big Ten with both teams having 36 points. McLaughlin said the team was expecting a battle and that Penn State’s offense would put them to the test, “I think we need to play hard defense. You look at the teams that beat them, Ohio State and Notre Dame, they’re just well-rounded defensive teams… just keep it a low scoring game.”