The Gopher Hockey team has one goal and one goal for its Big Ten Semifinal against Ohio State Friday night. Win. Win or your season is over. The Gophers are mathematically impossible to clinch an at large bid to the NCAA Tournament, so if you want to keep playing next week, its going to take two wins this weekend. Just think of it as two play-in games.
The Gophers will see a familiar foe in Ohio State Friday night, as the two teams will make it all three years of the Big Ten Tournament where they will face-off in the Semifinals. Ohio State upset the Gophers at the Xcel Energy center in 2014, and Minnesota returned the favor winning last season in Detroit. Minnesota would have made the NCAA Tournament no matter what happened the last two seasons....this one is a bit different. A loss to the Buckeyes and this season goes down as a disappointment, regular season title or not. Minnesota is in must win territory, and frankly that's what makes Friday night's game that much scarier. Not to mention the Gophers have not exactly had recent success at the X. Minnesota is 0-4 in their last two North Star Cups at the X, but does have four NCAA regional victories to fall back on. But it has been a bad stretch in conference tournaments for Minnesota. Their last conference tournament victory in St. Paul? 2008, over Colorado College. Yeesh.
The Gophers took all four games this season from Ohio State. In fact, the Buckeyes are the only team Minnesota completed a full season sweep of. Of course three of those four games went to overtime before Minnesota squeaked out a win. Good news, right? Maybe not. Not only is it incredibly hard to beat a team five times in a season, but this Buckeye team is a bit different then the one the Gophers last saw in early February. The Buckeyes are the hottest team in the nation at the moment winning seven of their last eight games. Ohio State swept a home and home series from Big Ten runner-up Michigan, who the winner of the Gopher/Buckeye game will most likely see Saturday night. With the exception of a 1-1 tie to Michigan state last week, the Buckeyes have scored at least four goals in every game of their eight game unbeaten streak. This includes their 4-3 overtime victory over the Spartans last night to advance to tonight's game.
In fact, just to add more worry to Gopher fans, this is eerily looking like the 2014 Big Ten Tournament at the X. Ohio State defeated Michigan State 2-1 in overtime in the opening round that season. The Buckeyes would then go on to beat Minnesota Friday night before falling in overtime to Wisconsin Saturday night. Ok...some similarities definitely won't happen. But it should be enough to but a scare into every Gopher fan.
Minnesota will need to come out and set the tone Friday night. If they fall behind early, the pressure will mount, and its unknown whether this young Gopher team will be able to deal with it. Last Saturday night needing a win to clinch the regular season title and going into the third period tied, Minnesota got great play out of its leadership. Hudson Fasching and Justin Kloos but the team on their back and led them to an eventual 4-1 win. The same will have to play out Friday night at the X. Kloos and Fasching led Minnesota to the sweep of the Buckeyes in Columbus in February, so we know it can happen. It needs to happen.
Minnesota will also need to get a great performance from freshman goalie Eric Schierhorn. If he is not on his game, them the Gophers should just pack up at intermission, because their season is over. Minnesota will need tohope for some Travis Weber-like magic from 2002 from Schierhorn.
Its do or die for the Gophers Friday night. Of course if Minnesota can get past the Buckeyes it will be another night of sweating it out for Gopher fans Saturday against either Penn State or Michigan. If the Gophers want to return to the X next week, it has to be done. But can it? Only time will tell.