The #5 Gopher women’s hockey team heads to Columbus this weekend for a key Big Ten series against the #7 Ohio State Buckeyes. The Gophers hold a one point edge over the Buckeyes for second place in the WCHA, but Ohio State has two games in hand on Minnesota. This weekend will go a long way to shaping up who will get the #2 seed in the WCHA playoffs.
Minnesota comes off of a weekend that saw them split a pair of games with the Vermont Catamounts at Ridder Arena. Vermont took the Friday night opener 4-2 while the Gophers came back to win Saturday 6-1. Meanwhile the Buckeyes swept Robert Morris in a pair of games in Columbus.
Minnesota will be looking for revenge against Ohio State after the Buckeyes came into Ridder Arena back in October and won on Friday night before tying the Gophers and getting the extra shootout point on Saturday. The Buckeyes were thought to be a defensive team going into the season with the return of All-American goalie Kassidy Sauve. However, Ohio State has been a much more offensive oriented team this season. Freshmen forwards Emma Maltais 30 points (10 goals) and Tatum Skaggs 26 points (15 goals) lead the Buckeyes in scoring while seven other Buckeyes are also in double figures for scoring. The Buckeyes come into the series 3.17 goals per game while allowing just 2.25 goals against per game.
Sauve has not been nearly as sharp as she was a year ago. This season she has a .929 save percentage—which is good enough for 11th in the nation and a 2.15 goals against average which is just 23rd in the NCAA.
The Gophers have slightly better team stats, but not by much. Minnesota averages 3.4 goals per game while giving up just 2.08 goals per game. After struggling to find a rhythm, Minnesota has gone with a fairly consistent goaltender tandem of senior Sidney Peters on Friday and freshman Alex Gulstene on Saturday. Neither goalie is blowing away the field with goals against averages of 2.05 for Gulstene to 2.07 for Peters. Their save percentages are also similar with .909 for Peters and .905 for Gulstene.
On offense Minnesota is led by freshman Grace Zumwinkle. Her 27 points lead the Gophers and senior Nicole Schammel’s 14 goals on the season to that list.
The Gophers will look to strike on special teams this weekend. They are currently #6 in the country on the power play with a 24.36 % success rate. Even better is their penalty kill at #4 in the nation and a 89.86% success rate. The Buckeyes are 13th on the nation on the power play and 17th on the penalty kill. It’s a definite opportunity for Minnesota to take advantage.
Minnesota will also put its perfect road record to the test this weekend. While the Gophers are just 7-6-2 on their home ice this season, they are a perfect 10-0 on the road. Meanwhile Ohio State is 9-1-2 this season as home...meaning something has to give.
With a Buckeye sweep, they pretty much will lock up the #2 spot in the WCHA seeding. Even with a Gopher sweep they will have some work to do. Both teams still have a pair of games against #1 Wisconsin left—but the Buckeyes get them in Columbus while the Gophers have to head to Madison. Minnesota also needs to do some work to boost their pairwise numbers. Currently the Gophers are #5 which would but them squarely in the tournament, but on the road for the first round. Meanwhile the Buckeyes are #7, square on the bubble. This series is huge for both teams in either tightening their grip on an at large spot, or slipping dangerously close to watching from the sidelines. It should be a good one, and hopefully Minnesota will prevail.
#5 Minnesota Golden Gophers @ #7 Ohio State Buckeyes
Where: OSU Ice Rink, Columbus, Ohio
When: 5PM Friday; 2PM Saturday
Video Stream: OSU Video ($$)
Audio Stream: FREE