With three native Minnesotans on the Islanders roster in Anders Lee, Brock Nelson and Kyle Okposo, the State of Hockey is well-represented on Long Island. When the Xcel Energy Center in Minnapolis, MN hosts the inaugural Big Ten Tournament this week, the Islanders will be well-represented, as prospects Jake Bischoff and Taylor Cammarata look to continue the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers winning tradition. The tournament began Thursday afternoon, but Minnesota has a first round-bye and will meet Ohio State on Friday night at 7 p.m. local time (8 p.m. Eastern Time).
Islanders’ fans will have a keen eye on Cammarata and Bischoff, two freshmen selected by the Islanders in the 2013 draft. Cammarata showed some of the offensive explosiveness that made him a third-round pick scoring 21 points (nine goals, 12 assists) in 34 games for the Gophers and finishing eighth in team scoring.
“I’m getting more accustomed to the college game,” he said. “Everybody is stronger and it’s a more defensive game. So I am just trying to get used to that… The most important thing is to move quickly and get open.”
Cammarata contributed on a consistent basis by playing on the second line and earning some power-play minutes.
Bischoff, a defenseman, had three goals and four assists in his rookie campaign, but finished with a plus-15 rating, good for sixth on the team.
“Offensively and defensively, Jake has been solid,” Cammarata said. “He’s been one of the top freshman defenseman, so he’s done well.”
The Gophers enter the tournament as the nation’s top team, boasting a 25-5-6 record. They are assured a spot in the NCAA tournament beginning next week, but are looking to add a Big-Ten playoff title to their achievements this season. They’ve already claimed their third straight regular-season title (winning this year’s Big-Ten and the two Western Collegiate Hockey Association titles before that).
Minnesota’s success can be attributed to their tight defensive play, as they’ve allowed the fewest goals in the country. Goaltender Adam Wilcox is a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award and was named Big Ten Player and Goaltender of the Year. Wilcox is nearly unbeatable when on his game, with a 1.91 goals against average and a .934 save percentage this season – both ranked third in the country. The Gophers goaltender is also up for the Mike Richter Award for college hockey’s top goaltender.
The Gophers’ top scorer, Kyle Rau, has 33 points (11 goals, 22 assists) in 36 games – but Minnesota has gotten contributions from up and down the lineup. Nine players on Minnesota’s roster have 20 or more points, with another five scoring at least 10.
“We’ve had scoring from almost everybody on the team,” Cammarata said. “The wealth is spread around.”
Big Ten Tournament Schedule:
#3 Michigan vs. #6 Penn State | Thurs., March 20 | 2 p.m.
#4 Ohio State vs. #5 Michigan State | Thurs., March 20 | 7 p.m.
#2 Wisconsin vs. Michigan/Penn State | Friday, March 21 | 2 p.m.
#1 Minnesota vs. Ohio State/Michigan State | Friday, March 21 | 7 p.m.
Semifinal Winners | Saturday, March 22 | 7 p.m.
•All times central