The #10 Minnesota Golden Gophers hockey team can get a lot closer to clinching home ice in the Big Ten Tournament and an at-large berth in the NCAA Tournament this weekend when they host the #6 Ohio State Buckeyes. Minnesota is hoping to build momentum off of their sweep of the Wisconsin Badgers last weekend in Madison, and use the emotion of senior day on Saturday to try and gain a bit of separation between the rest of the teams chasing them for a top four spot in the Big Ten standings. This weekend should be a good test to show us just where the Gophers are as we near the postseason.
The Gophers are coming off of a sweep of Wisconsin that put them back into the fourth spot in the Big Ten conference heading into the weekend. Minnesota got outstanding performances from Tyler Sheehy and Mat Robson. Additionally, the weekend put Minnesota very close to locking down an at-large berth in the NCAA Tournament. As discussed earlier in the week, the Gophers appear to be able to guarantee at at-large spot with two more wins, and have a fairly good shot with just one more. So sweep the Buckeyes this weekend and don’t worry—you will be playing in March.
It won’t be an easy task though. The Buckeyes are ranked #6 in the country for a reason. Ohio State is in second place in the Big Ten ,way behind regular season champion Notre Dame, but still five points clear of third place Michigan with a pair of games in hand. Ohio State swept the Gophers in December in Columbus, winning 2-1 on Friday night and then 4-1 on Saturday in Mat Robson’s Gopher debut.
The Buckeyes are not just a flash in the pan. They are legitimately one of the more well rounded teams in college hockey. They lead the nation with a 90.4 % penalty kill, are sixth in the country giving up just 2.17 goals per game, and are tied for 15th in the nation scoring 3.13 goals per game. Sophomore Tanner Laczynski leads the Big Ten in scoring with 37 points, while teammates Mathew Weiss and Mason Jobst are fourth and seventh respectively. Junior goalie Sean Romeo has been outstanding. He enters the weekend with a 16-7-4 record, a 2.1 goals against average and a .925 save percentage.
Minnesota will have to be near perfect in special teams, or will need to win this weekends game splaying five-on-five. Not only do the Buckeyes have the best penalty kill in the nation, which lets be honest shouldn’t see too much of a fight from the gophers putrid power play, but Ohio State is on a recent tear on the power play themselves. On the season they rank 11th in the country with a 22.6% success rate, but in the last eleven games the Buckeyes have scored a power play goal in nine of them and are have success at a nearly 35% clip. The Gopher penalty kill has been good this season and are ranked 15th in the country with an 83.6% kill rate. But the win and loss record is where you can really see how critical the special teams will be. When Minnesota does NOT allow a power play goal they are 15-4-1 on the season. When they do? Try 3-9. Woof.
Minnesota will need a good defensive game plan to shut down the Buckeyes. After last weekend, its fairly obvious that Mat Robson has won the starting goaltender job the rest of the way, unless he has a major slip up. Robson pushed his record on the year to 6-2 and he currently has a .940 save percentage and a 1.68 goals against average. Those numbers if magnified out to enough appearances would put him in the top five goalies nationally. He will need to be on his game, because its very possible Minnesota will need him to steal a game for them this weekend. This Gopher teams has had some issues scoring of late (the Saturday Wisconsin game not withholding) and does not want to get into a shootout type of game with this Buckeyes squad. If the Gophers can control the play and make smart plays, a split at the very least appears possible, and a sweep could happen.
The Gophers will honor their five seniors prior to the faceoff of Saturday afternoon’s game. Leon Bristedt, Jack Glover, Steve Johnson, Nick Lehr, and Mike Szmatula will all hope that Saturday will not be their last game on the Mariucci ice sheet. They have amassed an 84-55-8 record in their four years in the maroon and gold, and while they will not win a fourth consecutive Big Ten regular season championship this season, they still have a lot to play for as the season winds down.
The Gophers will have a very good idea of where they stand after this weekend’s games. Michigan plays their last two regular season games in a home and home against Notre Dame this weekend, while Penn State heads to East Lansing for a series against Michigan State. Depending on how the Gophers, Wolverines and Nittany Lions fair this weekend, we will know what kind of shape the Gophers are in to clinch home ice next week at Penn State. But, they can do themselves a ton of good by coming out and getting at bare minimum a split this weekend.
HOW TO WATCH
#6 Ohio State Buckeyes @ #10 Minnesota Golden Gophers
Where: Mariucci Arena, Minneapolis, MN
When: 8:00 PM Friday/ 4:00 PM Saturday
TV: BTN (Friday)/ ESPN U (Saturday)
Radio: 1130 AM, 103.5 FM, IHeart Radio App