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B1G Ten Hockey Tournament: Minnesota Falls to OSU

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The Golden Gophers played a slow, sloppy game and their B1G Ten Tournament ended abruptly. The Buckeyes face Wisconsin in the championship game tomorrow.

My feelings captured in a photo.
My feelings captured in a photo.

That’s disappointing. Minnesota came into this weekend as the odds on favorite to bring home the tournament championship, but they stumbled in their first conference tournament game for the second year in a row. At no point in this game did the Gophers look confident, and the Minnesota fans in the building could clearly sense their vulnerability.

This Golden Gopher team is at its best when it plays fast and with confidence. Neither of those traits was on display tonight at the Xcel Energy Center. Passes weren’t sharp, quality scoring chances were not numerous, and the Buckeyes forced them to play out of their comfort zone. Instead, this was a clutch-and-grab, grinding style game, which is not their strong suit.

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In the first period, Minnesota looked tight. They normally flow through the neutral zone with pace and enter the zone with confidence. Tonight, Ohio State successfully frustrated Minnesota’s zone entry with three and four player traps in the neutral zone. The Buckeye defenders did an excellent job of staying between Gopher attackers and their freshman goaltender Christian Frey.

When the Gophers got into the zone clean, the disciplined Buckeye defenders forced them to the outside of the zone. The Buckeyes also did an excellent job of positioning their sticks to deflect shots.

Despite the excellent defensive effort, Minnesota managed to throw 31 shots onto Frey, who played a very good game. Playoff hockey comes down to goaltending, and Frey gave his team the effort they needed to win in front of him.

Though he allowed only two goals (one of which was tipped into the net by a Gopher defender [Ryan Dzingel game winning goal]), even Adam Wilcox did not look particularly sharp. On the Buckeye’s first goal during a first period power play, Wilcox was in position to make the save on freshman Nick Shilkey’s deflection shot, but the puck trickled under his left leg. Wilcox wasn’t solely at fault for the goal, he had zero help from the back side defenseman, but it’s the kind of save we’ve come to expect from him. If he can get a piece of a shot, he usually gets the whole thing.

To close the second period, Ohio State nearly scored a goal after Wilcox misplayed a puck coming off the end wall. The puck rolled up his left side and behind him before coming to rest on the goal line. It was promptly stuffed into the gaping goal mouth by a Buckeye forechecker, but just a split second after the buzzer sounded.

Still, when you’re team averages well more than three goals per game, a two goals against night is usually enough to win. So while Wilcox didn’t have a great game, he still gave Minnesota a chance to win.

The biggest problem Minnesota had tonight was the inability of the skaters to click on offense. The only player to have a truly solid performance throughout the game was junior Captain Kyle Rau. He scored the Gophers lone power play goal, and he was able to disrupt the Buckeyes in all three zones.

The same can’t be said about senior Captain Nate Condon. Just about every time we heard his name tonight, things were not going well. He turned the puck over a couple of times, and took the penalty that led to Shilkey’s power play goal. Condon hasn’t had a banner senior campaign, and tonight was a microcosm of his struggles. For some reason, he just hasn’t been able to create offense using his speed as he did in previous seasons, with a few exceptions.

Freshman Hudson Fasching also had a bit of a rough game. He struggled to control the puck and wasn’t able to create any separation using his size and speed to power past defenders. Sometimes it’s hard to remember that he’s a freshman because his raw talent is so impressive.

In general, the freshman played decently, and the third and fourth lines were the most productive, despite being filled with underclassmen.

In playoff games, a team needs upperclassmen to come through in clutch situations, and tonight the Gophers got very little production out of Seth Ambroz and Sam Warning. If Minnesota makes a deep run in the NCAA tournament, they will have to play better and get on the score sheet.

Well Gopher fans, those are my takes on tonight’s loss. Let me know what you saw, liked, and hated from the game in the comments.