The ice conditions for the Hockey City Classic seemed ok. I have it on good authority that the air was too cold, so the ice crew was using the coil system underneath the ice to heat the ice and keep it from getting brittle. The ice didn’t seem to affect the play too much, but it was clear that the skaters were generating a lot of "snow," as the crew repeatedly shoveled the whole surface during commercial breaks.
The first period was evenly played on both sides. It was clear that both teams were feeling out the elements and the surface out. Shots in the period favored the Gophers by an 8-7 margin.
It was at this point in the game that I began to take stock of the event as a whole. The attendance at the women’s game was very disappointing. My viewing partner and I (my mom this time) used the game as an opportunity to explore the stadium and try to find the best sightlines. I quickly discovered that I was happy to be in the upper deck for the men’s game that night, because the boards obstructed 50% of the ice, and to me, seeing the ice and the puck is a big part of watching hockey.
Our seats were in the corner nearest the Gophers’ bench, which allowed me to see most of the ice, as well as both goal lines. I was the first person in my section to recognize Cammarata’s second period goal, and I was the only person jumping up and down. The Gophers controlled the second period, firing 14 shots to the Buckeye’s 9.
During the second period, I started getting frustrated with the crowd. Specifically, I was frustrated with the number of people with their backs to the ice. One girl must have said "Let’s go to the Library. Let’s just get a cab, and go the Library and drink," fifty times before her friends took pity on me and dragged her out of the stadium (presumably to go drink at the Library). I had to repeatedly tell a teenager in front of me to stop trying to make The Wave happen because we weren’t at the Metrodome and the year isn’t 1995. When a 28 year old die-hard hockey fan is reduced yelling at other fans to shut up and watch the game, your hockey event has some issues.
In the third period, shots were an even 5-5, and the Gophers held on for the win. Gopher Sophomore Adam Wilcox notched his second shutout of the year. I’m sorry that I don’t have much more to write about this game. I was talking to my mom and trying to analyze the action with her (she’s seen more hockey in the last thirty years than most people would see in five lifetimes), but we were stuck to trying to recognize players by the numbers on the backs of their Jerseys. It was impossible to get a feel for the pace or flow of the game. I think Nate Condon had a nice game, I saw his number a bunch and he made good decisions with the puck.
I don’t want to make it seem like I hated the HCC. I had fun. However, I had fun in the way that ice fishing tournaments are fun. People drink and socialize and are merry. That’s great. In the end, this event was not for me, the hardcore, die-hard Gopher hockey fan. It was for the rest of the U of M community, and people really seemed to enjoy themselves. If this event builds the Gopher hockey fan base, then mission accomplished. As for me, I won’t spend any more money on tickets to outdoor hockey. I’ll save it for games at Mariucci, like the Saturday night game which was almost as good as college hockey can get.
The Gophers started Saturday night’s contest on fire. Ohio State had not played a single game on Olympic ice all year, which resulted an obvious advantage for the Gophers, who moved the puck at will. The passing game was as crisp as I’ve seen all year. Ohio State’s Achilles Heel this season has been team defense, and that problem was magnified by the ice dimensions. This was the advantage which the Gophers ceded to host the HCC the night before.
Buckeye freshman goaltender Christian Frey played well in the first period, considering the skaters in front of him barely played defense at all. However, he was beaten by shots three times in that first period. Two shots found iron and bounced away.
You all know by now that I like to give FSN color commentator Ben Clymer a tough time because of the inane things he says during the broadcast. Well, he threw us another doozy. About thirty seconds after the second shot off the pipe, we get this from Clymer: "Well all questions about the freshman goaltender have been answered!" At this point in the game, the Buckeyes were a peach-fuzz-moustache-hair’s width from trailing by two goals. I had plenty of questions about the ability of the freshman goaltender to keep the Buckeyes in the game at this point. Ben Clymer writes his colorful comments the day before the game and reads them off paper… I assume.
Hockey is a funny game sometimes. Shots on goal do not always lead to goals, and sometimes a team can get blown off the ice and lead a game by two goals. This situation comes up often when the better team has chances, but misses them, like pounding two shots off the iron in the first period. That is exactly what happened in this game.
The Buckeyes’ junior Nick Oddo pulled the string on a fastball from the point and turned it into a dribble changeup [baseball tie-in] that found its way under Adam Wilcox to give OSU a 1-0 lead. It was a nice goal, but Wilcox overreacted to the change in speed and direction and let it trickle past. A more conventional butterfly goaltender might have a chance at make the play because he would be less likely to make it back to his feet with the same agility as Wilcox, leaving him in a better position to make the save. Wilcox was able to stand all the way back up before the puck arrived, which is how the puck got under his left skate. Still, it was an excellent redirection on the shot and an incredibly difficult save for any goaltender to make.
At this point in the game, the Gophers’ lead in shots on goal was something like 10 to 4. I was a bit worried that the "Floodgates" protocol was in effect when OSU scored again, this time on the Power Play. Freshman Drew Brevig smashed a one-timer from the point passed a screened Wilcox three and a half minutes later.
At this point in the game, I felt a strange sense of Zen calmness. The Gophers were clearly the better team on the ice, and puck luck can create goals over a five or six minute span, but it rarely will carry a team over the course of a sixty minute game. I just kind of felt that our Gophers were meant to win this game, I just didn’t know how yet. The answer would come just a few seconds after the Buckeyes’ second goal, when the curtain rose for the Sam Warning show.
Some of you might remember me saying this in my Penn State article: "If this team is going to continue winning in the conference, it will need Sam Warning to score like he did through the first quarter of the season." Well, Sam came through with one heck of a performance.
With five and one-half minutes, left in the first period, immediately after Ben Clymer said "the Gophers have lost the handle in this game," two excellent pastes from Nate Condon and Mike Reilly exposed the OSU defense and Warning wide-open to tip the puck into a GAPING goalmouth. There was so much space that when Warning lost his edge his whole body followed the puck into the net and never came close to contacting the goaltender. It was the type of tick-tack-toe scoring plays for which the Gophers are always known.
Let me take a break here to once again talk about Mike Reilly. He started the scoring play with a breakout pass to Condon which he banked off the sideboards on onto Condon’s stick. He then broke from the lip of the crease all the way through the neutral zone at a dead sprint and picked up the return pass from Condon at the top of the OSU slot. He immediately one-touched the puck over to Warning, who basically had no choice but to score. Seriously, Reilly’s pass was so good that even I couldn’t have screwed up the goal. If you watch the highlights from the game, you’ll see that Warning doesn’t even move his stick. The pass was so perfect that the puck just goes in. Goaltender Frey could only stare at the Mariucci roof in disbelief. Keep in mind that Mike Reilly is a defenseman, but he’s still one of the Gophers’ most lethal scoring talents.
The first period would finish with the Buckeyes leading 2-1, but I’m sure Coach Steve Rohlik considered that score a miracle since his team had been out-played for the majority of the period.
Warning would tie the game less than two minutes in on a one-timer form a beautiful backhand pass from Nate Condon. The pass clearly fooled Frey, who made a move to the top of the crease when he needed to move straight to his right. He was horribly out of position when the shot actually came from that side. Warning probably could have skated into the net a second time, but he went for the style points instead. There’s no accounting for taste, I guess.
The goal that earned Warning some donated headgear came on the Power Play about half way through the second period. He cleaned up a rebound from a shot from the top of the circle. From whom did the shot come, you ask? Mike Reilly. Go figure.
It was the easiest looking hat trick I have witnessed in years. I mean, the goal was wide open, and there were no defenders to be seen when he scored, including the goaltender. It was thoroughly enjoyable offense, and if I had been in attendance, my black flat-bill featuring the block M would now be sitting on Warning’s shelf.
At this point in the game, Ohio State was dead in the water, and I’m pretty sure everyone knew it. They managed to hit a post with about nine minutes left in the second period, but wouldn’t score the rest of the way.
Seth Ambroz would make a nifty steal in the Buckeyes’ zone in the third period, and snap a shot past Frey from the top of the slot to push the lead to 4-2. At that point you could almost hear the first notes of the Battle Hymn.
The Gophers energy level in this game was excellent. They played at a much higher level than they did against Penn State at the start of the week. Wilcox would make 25 saves over the course of the game for his sixteenth win of the season.
What Does It All Mean?
Warning and Ambroz now share the team lead in goal scoring with 10 each. It’s nice to have the junior class leading the offense when they have such scoring depth on the roster, especially in the freshman class. There are three players on the Gophers’ roster without any points on the season, and two of them are goaltenders. The third pointless player has only seen the ice in two games this year. I’m really pulling for Ryan Reilly to see some more ice time this year; I would love to see a Reilly goal with assists from Reilly and Reilly. I’m sure their parents feel the same way.
Adam Wilcox continues to be the anchor of this team. It’s getting hard to overstate his value to this team. Which reminds me, vote for him for the Hobey Baker Award here. You can vote once every 24 hours, so vote early and vote often.
The Gophers sweep of Ohio State means that Bucky and Michigan cannot make up any ground this weekend when they play Buckeyes and Spartans, respectively. The sweep effectively negates the games-in-hand those teams had by taking the weekend off. Wisconsin and Michigan can only keep pace this coming weekend when the Gophers play in the North Star Cup. If those teams lose or tie any game this coming weekend, they will lose ground to the Gophers in the Conference standings. Somehow, Michigan has still played only four B1G Ten games this year…
The sweep further solidifies the likelihood of a #1 seed for the Gophers in the NCAA tournament. The Gophers still have the highest RPI in the country. Minnesota State Mankato swept Ferris State at home, which dropped the Bulldogs to a tie for fourth in the Pairwise. Those games also gave the Gophers a lead in the Head-to-Head comparison against the Bulldogs.
All around, the Gophers avoided disaster Friday and took a big step Saturday. It was a good weekend for Gopher hockey.
Make sure to let me know what you thought of the Hockey City Classic (good or bad) and the weekend on the whole in the comments section!
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