The Gopher Hockey Team will look to continue its successful stretch when it travels to Columbus for an important Big Ten series against Ohio State. Minnesota remains tied atop the Big Ten standings with Wisconsin who has a huge series of their own this weekend hosting Penn State. The Gophers will look to earn some form of revenge against Ohio State for the 8-3 loss the Buckeyes pinned on the Gophers in December. However, that loss has brought the team together as they are 10-2 since that night with the only losses to Wisconsin in Madison and against #1 UMD in the North Star College Cup.
The Gophers will also attempt to continue to hold their position in the Pairwise. With Minnesota’s sweep of Penn State last weekend, the Gophers have risen to #4 in the calculations—good enough for a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament if it started today. With ten regular season games left on the schedule, it now appears Minnesota will need to win at least 6, and probably more like eight games to hang onto their current #1 seed. The good news it that it now appears Minnesota can remain in a top-8 position and clinch a #2 seed by just going 5-5 down the stretch. Getting a big sweep over the Buckeyes this weekend would put the Gophers well on their way.
The Buckeyes will be looking to get another big win against Minnesota to get back in the NCAA Tournament hunt. Ohio State has fallen down to #20 in the Pairwise, and now needs to go 7-3 at minimum down the stretch to have a chance at an at large bid. Ohio State still remains ranked much higher by the coaches and media. The Buckeyes come into the weekend ranked #12 in the USCHO poll and #13 in the USA Today/US Hockey Magazine Poll. They split a pair of games in Ann Arbor against Michigan last weekend, losing 5-4 on Friday before coming back and scoring the game winning goal Saturday with approximately 30 seconds left in the game to win 6-5. But, Ohio State still languishes in fourth place in the Big Ten Standings with 14 points—ten behind the first place Gophers and Badgers and two behind third place Penn State.
Ohio State is an offensive hockey team. They average 4.08 goals per game on the season to rank #2 in the nation behind only Penn State. But the Gophers are not far behind in 4th with a 3.81 goals per game average. The Buckeyes are led by Mason Jobst who leads the Big Ten in conference scoring with 37 points. He has a current twelve game point streak ongoing. Nick Schilkey has 30 total points on the year—with 20 goals ranking him third in the nation in lighting the lamp. Minnesota will need to make sure they can crack down on them defensively and not let them have a big weekend.
Defensively the Buckeyes are backstopped by Christian Frey. Frey is one of those goaltenders who can look amazing one night, and then look like a sieve the next. He has a 2.85 goals against average and a 91.8% save percentage—not elite numbers by any means. But when he is on, he is outstanding. He made an insane 56 saves in the Buckeyes shootout win over Penn State on January 20th. However, Frey was yanked in both games against Michigan last weekend after allowing five goals on 33 shots Friday night, and four goals on twenty shots on Saturday. Frey was replaced by Matt Tomkins who has a 2.52 goals against average in twelve games this season. However, he has a not good 90.2% save percentage at the moment, so if Tompkins gets a start this weekend it will be imperative for the Gophers to pound him with shots and find as many rebounds as possible.
Meanwhile, the Gophers will look to continue their hot offensive ways. Minnesota scored five goals in both games against the Nittany Lions last weekend. PSU has the #2 ranked defense coming into the series. Ohio State is not nearly at stingy defensively, setting up what would be a high scoring shootout of a weekend. Tyler Sheehy is second in scoring in the Big Ten with 36 points, just one behind Jobst. The Gophers are getting scoring from other players as well. Leon Bristedt scored a hat trick in Saturday’s win. Senior Vinni Lettieri has come on strong as well and now ranks third on the team in scoring with 25 points on the season.
The biggest reason for the Gophers hot streak of late has been goalie Eric Schierhorn. he was named the Big Ten #1 Star of the Week for his performance in allowing just three goals on 69 shots in helping the Gophers to their sweep. He has led the Gophers to wins in 10 of the last 12 games and 13 of the last 16 while allowing two goals or less in nine of the last 12. If he can keep the Buckeyes to two goals or less in both games this weekend, it should be another easy sweep for the Gophers.
Once again special teams will be key to the weekend’s battle. Ohio State enters the series with the #1 power play in the nation at 28.8%. The Gophers have been great on the penalty kill of late, allowing only three power-play goals in 46 chances in their last twelve games. Meanwhile on the opposite side, the Gophers have the seventh ranked power play in the country at the moment at 23.9%, and have scored at least one power-play goal in each of their last five games. The Buckeyes have not been god on the kill this season, ranking 51st in the nation at just 76.9%. The team that has the most success on the power-play this weekend most likely wins the series.
The stats show that Minnesota should be favored this weekend. But, it will all come down to the play of Schierhorn and the Gopher defense in front of him. If they can contain the potent Buckeye offense, a sweep is definitely possible. But a split will be fine for the Gophers conference and NCAA hopes. Its the start of two tough back to back road trips with the Gophers headed to Penn State next weekend. If Minnesota can take three out of the next four, things will be looking pretty good in Dinkytown.
HOW TO WATCH:
#5/4 Minnesota Golden Gophers vs #12/13 Ohio State Buckeyes
Where: Value City Arena—Columbus, Ohio
When: 7:00 PM CST Both Nights
Radio: 1500 ESPN