DETROIT- Minnesota senior Seth Ambroz hasn't been paying too much attention to what other teams have been doing this weekend. Just enough, he said.
"Obviously it's still there and you have to keep an eye on it," he said after Friday's 3-0 win over Ohio State. "Our main focus is tomorrow and to win the Big Ten."
Minnesota will get that opportunity Saturday evening at Joe Louis Arena when the team faces Michigan, which defeated in-state rival Michigan State in the second semifinal.
The Gophers entered this weekend's Big Ten hockey tournament on the Pairwise bubble for the NCAA Tournament. A win against the Buckeyes and other help throughout the country certainly helped. Minnesota finished Friday 10th in the Pairwise, which mimics the criteria used to select at-large bids, but a win on its own does not mean the Big Ten regular season champions have clinched a chance to finish what the 2014 Frozen Four runner-up squad came one game short of doing.
Of the more than 150 remaining scenarios, only a few bad beats would leave Minnesota on the outside looking in with a loss Saturday.
Instead, the team would like to avoid those all together with the automatic bid that comes with a victory Saturday. It's much, much easier. There are several reasons the Gophers got over the hump and won a conference tournament game for the first time since 2008. Adam Wilcox had one of his best performances when it was needed the most. Sam Warning and Travis Boyd each scored to continue the run the senior has had, as well as the team gaining leadership and confidence as the year continues.
"When I came in as a freshman, it kind of went from the seniors there, the leaders," Warning said Friday. "I think this year we kind of fell into that position. So anytime we can lead the team and set an example for the other guys, that's huge."
The two teams split the four games between one another earlier this season. Michigan swept the Gophers in Ann Arbor in early January while Minnesota returned the favor at Mariucci Arena the next month. Although technically a neutral site, the Wolverines will be playing in a building 30 miles from home that it visits on an annual basis.
"Well, you know, personally I think they're just as good on small ice as they are on big ice. Regardless, we're a little more familiar with this building," Michigan head coach Red Berenson said. We probably have more fans here, and if we play well enough, then we can take advantage of home ice. If you don't play well enough, then it doesn't matter.
The equalizer for familiarity is that Michigan, which needs to win to make the NCAA Tournament, will be playing its third game in as many nights. Playing a more rested opponent is difficult and could play a factor.
Still, no team has looked as dominant during the Big Ten tournament as Michigan, which pelted Spartans goalie Jake Hildebrand with 49 shots overall and 24 in the first period. There are times when Minnesota has done the same to Big Ten opponents during the year, which makes the match-up that much more interesting.
According to Brady Skjei, the Gophers tried to be more physical on defense. Yet there could be more room against tonight's foe to help out Wilcox, who stopped 22 shots in the third period.
"Tomorrow we have to come out with a better effort and hopefully we'll be successful," said Ambroz.
At the very least, tonight's championship is fitting without the scoreboard watching.
"Any time we play Minnesota we get pretty pumped up," said Michigan forward Alex Kile. "it's arguably the two best teams in the Big Ten and I think tomorrow you're going to see who's the best."
Who: #1 Minnesota vs. #3 Michigan
What: 2015 Big Ten hockey conference tournament championship
Where: Joe Louis Arena, Detroit
When: 8:00 p.m. ET/7:00 p.m. CT
Why: Because the winner gets an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament
TV/Radio: BTN (Dan Kelly, Rob Andringa) and 1500 ESPN (Twin Cities)/IMG Sports Network (Ann Arbor)
Neither team made a chance from Friday. If it ain't broke...
University of Minnesota Golden Gophers
Leon Bristedt (#18) - Kyle Rau (#7) - Hudson Fasching (#24)
Sam Warning (#11) - Travis Boyd (#22) - Seth Ambroz (#17)
Taylor Cammarata (#13) - Justin Kloos (#25) - Vinni Lettieri (#19)
A.J. Michaelson (#15) - Christian Isackson (#26) - Jack Glover (#3)
Brady Skjei (#2) - Ryan Collins (#6)
Mike Reilly (#5) - Jake Bischoff (#28)
Ben Marshall (#10)- Michael Brodzinski (#20)
Adam Wilcox (#32)
Nick Lehr (#34)
University of Michigan Wolverines
Alex Kile (#23) - Andrew Copp (#9) - JT Compher (#7)
Justin Selman (#10) - Dylan Larkin (#19) - Zach Hyman (#11)
Dexter Dancs (#39) - Cristoval "Boo" Nieves (#12) - Tyler Motte (#14)
Max Shuart (#25) - Travis Lynch (#20) - Tony Calderone (#17)
Michael Downing (#5) - Brennan Serville (#6)
Zach Werenski (#13) - Kevin Lohan (#24)
Cutler Martin (#4) - Andrew Sinelli (#22)
Steve Racine (#1)
Zach Nagelvoort (#35)
Luke Dwyer (#29)