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Gopher Hockey: Know Thine Enemy Redux- Ohio State

The Gophers and Ohio State, are we looking in the mirror, or are we looking through the bottom of a serum vial at an alter ego that doesn't know how to play defense?

It seems like almost a lifetime since Ohio State came to Minneapolis for the Hockey City Classic. At that time, their conference record was disappointing at 1-2-1. They had a decent overall record, but had accumulated the majority of their wins against subpar competition. That weekend, Minnesota swept them right back out of city, and the Buckeyes almost seemed destined for a fifth place finish in the conference.

Since that bitterly cold weekend, Ohio State has battled itself into the race for third place on the back of a very good scoring offense, led by junior Ryan Dzingel. They leapfrogged Michigan State, whose offense is just terrible. They’ve also caught up to the collapsing Michigan Wolverines, but dropped their opportunity to move into third place last Sunday afternoon… at home.

This weekend, the high-scoring Buckeyes get a shot at redemption at home against Minnesota.

For the Gophers, this weekend represents their first opportunity to clinch the inaugural B1G Ten regular season championship. A season’s worth of effort has led to a Magic Number of 2; six points to conference hardware. After the disappointing weekend in in Madison, they’ve rattled off four straight wins, and done so with some flair, outscoring Michigan and Penn State 16 to 6 on aggregate.

The Buckeyes also enter the weekend with something significant for which to play: positioning in the B1G Ten tournament and in the national rankings. An at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament is not completely of reach (they’re currently tied for 21st in the pairwise), but there are several quality teams standing in the way of that bid. Ohio State’s best hope for making the college The Tourney (hey! The real The Tourney is happening right now!) is by winning the B1G Ten automatic qualifier via the B1G Ten The Tourney.

To win the B1G Ten tournament, the Buckeyes will have to win three games in three nights. To do so, they’ll want to play Penn State on Thursday, so they need to find a way to pass Michigan on the league table. If they don’t, they’ll undoubtedly face nightmare goaltender Jake Hildebrand and the rest of the Michigan State Spartans in that first round.

Don’t expect Ohio State to roll over and die this weekend.

Mirror Images?

Minnesota and Ohio State are cut from the same cloth, at least when it comes to production on offense. Both teams score by committee, and they’re good at it. The Gophers score over 3.5 goals per game, but have only four players with ten or more goals (Seth Abroz, Sam Warning, Hudson Fasching, and Justin Kloos). The Buckeyes score 3 1/3 ggp, and have only three players with ten or more (Dzingel, Max McCormick, and Nick Schilkey). Both teams have only a handful of players who haven’t put at least one goal in the net.

The mirror image analogy ends on the other end of the ice. Despite playing a bottom fifteen schedule, in terms of strength, Ohio State allows 2.67 goals to its opposition. Since the goaltending situation has solidified around freshmen Matt Thompkins and Christian Frey, that number has been coming down, but team defense remains a concern.

By contrast, the Gophers have been back stopped by an All-American goaltender all year, and they generally play very good defense. Hobey Baker candidate Adam Wilcox has dropped his goals against average down to 1.964, an astounding number for a goaltender who has played in thirty games this year. Aside from an uncomfortably large number of odd-man rushes, team defense has been very good.

When Minnesota was swept in Wisconsin three weeks ago, it wasn’t due to Wilcox or the defense. The team dropped a pair of 2-1 decisions because the offense went cold. In a normal weekend, you would expect four goals-against in two games to result in some points for the team.

Warning: shocking blogger statement inbound. Since the offenses are evenly matched, though I give Minnesota a slight advantage in overall skill, this weekend will come down to defense. The Gophers will need Adam Wilcox to come up big, as he has all season. They’ll also need to be disciplined in the defensive zone and not give the puck away. Turnovers are the last thing any team can afford against Ohio State.

Here’s your final drop of hockey knowledge going into the weekend: breakouts win championships.