The Gophers enter the postseason as the favorite to win the Big Ten tournament and with a little help can claim one of four No. 1 seeds in the NCAA tournament.
They are ranked No. 5 in the PairWise rankings, the program’s highest ranking since advancing to the national championship game in 2014. All signs point to another deep run in the NCAA tournament.
However, achieving that goal might have become more difficult after the Gophers lost another important piece of the lineup last weekend. Freshman defenseman Ryan Lindgren will miss the rest of the season with a lower-leg injury the team announced Monday.
Lindgren will have surgery this week and is expected to make a full recovery, but his absence combined with the loss of sophomore forward Tommy Novak earlier this season leaves the Gophers without two of their underclassman standouts.
“Ryan was having a really great year for us as a freshman, and you hate to see such a promising season end this way,” Gophers coach Don Lucia said. “It’s tough to lose him for the postseason, but we have a great medical team here at the University of Minnesota, and we know we’ll have him back soon.”
Lindgren was injured in the final period of the regular season Saturday at Mariucci Arena after crashing into the boards in a 1-1 tie with Michigan State. The Gophers lose Lindgren’s 50 blocked shots (second most on the team), plus-nine rating, and seven points (one goal, six assists). He played in 32 games this season and also helped lead the U.S National Junior Team to a gold medal at the 2017 IIHF World Junior Championship.
The offense took a big hit in mid-January when the team announced Novak would miss the rest of the season with a lower-body injury suffered in a 4-2 victory against Michigan. He collided with Michigan’s Dexter Dancs with under two minutes to play in the game and had to be helped off the ice.
Novak had played in all 57 games since joining program until being sidelined just six games into Big Ten play this season. He was among the team’s top scorers at the time of the injury with five goals and nine assists in 20 games. He is still among the Gophers’ Top 10 scorers.
“We’re really disappointed for Tommy, and losing him for the year is a big blow for our program,” Lucia said in January. “We know that Tommy will be in great hands as he recovers and rehabs from this injury.”
The Gophers have also been without junior forward Mike Szmatula for the past seven games because of injury. He is among the team’s top-seven scorers with 10 goals and 15 assists despite only appearing in 26 games.
Szmatula practiced this week and is expected to play in the Big Ten tournament. His return would be a welcomed boost after losing Lindgren.
The Gophers’ depth is among the reasons they’ve been successful this season and it will be tested the deeper they get in the postseason. Junior defenseman Jack Glover is expected to fill in for Lindgren. Glover has played in only 11 games this season and two in Big Ten play, but played in 58 games over his first two seasons.
The senior leadership has been successful at keeping the Gophers focused despite the handful of injuries. The team is 10-5-1 since losing Novak and 4-2-1 over the last seven games without Novak and Szmatula.