Minnesota, Michigan set to renew hockey rivalry in Big Ten

Minnesota and Michigan renew acquaintances this weekend as two of the most successful hockey programs in NCAA history and two of the flagship members of the Big Ten.

MINNEAPOLIS -- Between the two schools, they own 14 NCAA titles. They are the No. 1 and No. 2 winningest programs in college hockey.

The two coaches rank among the top-10 all-time winningest NCAA men's hockey coaches.

Minnesota, with coach Don Lucia, and Michigan, with coach Red Berenson, have a lot of history in NCAA hockey. The Gophers -- the winningest program in college hockey -- and Wolverines have a lot of history together, as well. The two former members of the WCHA have met 259 times, including once in the NCAA finals.

Lucia and Berenson, and Minnesota and Michigan, renew acquaintances this weekend as two of the most successful programs in NCAA history and two of the flagship members of the Big Ten Conference.

"I think it will become a really good rivalry," Lucia said Wednesday. "Obviously we have one going with Wisconsin. But I think if you look at all the rest of the teams in Big Ten hockey, probably as much because of Michigan's tradition over the years, a former member of the WCHA back in the '70s. We've had some big games with them. They have great teams year-in and year-out, so I think this probably (is) the next rival that will really ramp up in the Big Ten for us."

Many proponents of Big Ten hockey hope for the rivalry to build. Minnesota (19-4-5 overall, 8-2-2-0 Big Ten) hosts Michigan (14-7-3, 6-3-1-1) this weekend, the initial meeting between the two teams in the first season of the Big Ten and the first meeting since 2011.

"They're a big, strong, fast team, kind of play like we do," said defenseman Justin Holl, one of three Gophers' players, along with Nate Condon and Tom Serratore, who have faced the Wolverines with Minnesota. "So, I think there's definitely an opportunity for it to be a big rivalry."

The two schools first played each other in 1923. They were members of the WCHA from 1951-1981 before Michigan left for the CCHA. They met in the 1953 NCAA championship game, won by the Wolverines, who own an NCAA-record nine titles.

The Gophers own the head-to-head series with a 128-117-14 record against Michigan. Of course, there's a rivalry trophy on the line, as well. The Mariucci/Renfrew Trophy was started in 1993. Michigan was won the trophy nine times, the most in the series.

"It's been a big rivalry for a while," Holl said. "It will be fun to get back to playing them and I'm sure it will be a really fun matchup."

There's much at stake, as well.

Minnesota, ranked No. 2 in the nation after last weekend's two losses at Wisconsin, has earned 26 points in 12 conference games to lead the Big Ten. The Badgers, ranked No. 8, are second with 22 points in 12 games and the No. 10-ranked Wolverines are third with 20 points, but in only 10 games.

And then there are the two coaches.

Berenson, at Michigan for the past 30 years, earned his 784th career NCAA win last weekend, moving into fourth all-time among coaches. Lucia is 10th with 642 wins. Berenson and Lucia each own two national titles.

Berenson -- who played his first collegiate game against Minnesota in 1960 -- and the Wolverines beat Lucia's Colorado College team in 1996 to win Michigan's eighth title.

"You go across college hockey and there's a lot of outstanding coaches and Red is certainly an icon," Lucia said. "To be doing it as long as he's been doing it, at one school in Michigan. . . . Now this is a big series. We're technically tied with Michigan for first place right now because they have two games in hand."

The Gophers need to get over last weekend's sweep at Wisconsin. Minnesota lost a pair of 2-1 games.

"Coached talked to us after the game and said this isn't necessarily the worst thing ever if we get better from it," Holl said. "I think we feel that way, too. So, it could be a good wake-up call and I think we can definitely get better from it and learn some stuff."

The Gophers, who have slipped to seventh in the nation in scoring with 3.46 goals per game, have scored only once in three straight games and have four games with one goal since returning in January after the break.

"Our theme has kind of been, 'if we get to three, we have a really good chance to win games,'" Lucia said. "(Goaltender Adam Wilcox has) done his job giving up two both games, especially on the road. Now against Michigan, again, we're going to have to score some goals."

Lucia mentioned the similarities between the two teams, enough to perhaps add spice to the hopeful re-emergence of a rivalry.

"They want to play attacking hockey," Lucia said of the Wolverines. "They want to play aggressive. And they play very confidently and they want to make plays and that's why I think when we've played them over the years, the games are very entertaining because they're really up-and-down games."

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