Border battle to determine Minnesota’s Big Ten fate

The Gophers need one victory to earn their fifth regular season title in a row.

Gophers forward Connor Reilly races the puck down the ice at Mariucci Arena on Jan. 17, 2015.

Alex Tuthill-Preus, Daily File Photo

Gophers forward Connor Reilly races the puck down the ice at Mariucci Arena on Jan. 17, 2015.

Mike Hendrickson

The Minnesota-Wisconsin hockey rivalry appears dormant on the surface.
The Gophers need only one more victory to win a conference regular season title for the fifth consecutive season, while the Badgers will likely finish at the bottom of the Big Ten for the second year in a row.
Head coach Don Lucia said he isn’t overlooking the Badgers’ talent level, and he said he’s focused on the team’s top priority, a third consecutive Big Ten title.
“I don’t see how we could be overconfident about anything,” Lucia said. “We’ve proven that we can beat anybody, and we’ve also proven that anybody can beat us. We certainly are a team with plenty of flaws.”
The Gophers outscored the Badgers 13-2 when they played in Madison, Wis., in late January. Wisconsin has won two conference games all season, but the rivalry games will mean a lot to Minnesota this weekend.
“We expect them to come out hot,” junior forward Hudson Fasching said. “We obviously went there and swept them in their building, so I think they’re going to be pretty upset with us.”
Wisconsin forward Aidan Cavallini and defenseman Eddie Wittchow were both suspended after the series in January, with both earning major penalties for hits on freshman forward Tommy Novak.
Redshirt junior Connor Reilly, who had his own season ended last year by an injury at Wisconsin, said the team shouldn’t focus on revenge with the Big Ten tournament looming.
“We can’t be worried about taking personal liberties or anything like that,” Reilly said. “If we’re worried about getting guys back for what has happened in the past, we’re not going to do what we’re supposed to do.”
The series is the Gophers’ last at home, and the team hopes to finish strong after a 5-0 loss to Michigan State hurt its NCAA tournament chances. Based on Minnesota’s PairWise rankings, the team likely needs to win the Big Ten tournament to make it into the NCAA field, but the Gophers are working on a regular season title first.
“We want to finish the [season] on a good note,” Fasching said. “We really want to finish strong at home, and it means a lot to us as an organization.”
Even if the Gophers are swept by the Badgers, the team already clinched a bye in the Big Ten tournament last weekend. With the bye, the team is only two victories in the tournament away from an automatic NCAA berth.
“The more we can do to help ourselves, the better off it is for us,” Lucia said. “It’s that point in time where you either do it or you don’t.”