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Minnesota Women’s Hockey: Gophers Look to Breakthrough against Ohio State

The WCHA could be on the line this weekend

Kelly Hagenson—

A week after the Minnesota Gophers women’s hockey team proved to the world that they still deserve the remain in the top tier of women’s college hockey teams in the nation, they get another chance to prove they aren’t just a one trick pony. The #2/4 Minnesota Gophers head to Columbus to face the #2/3 Ohio State Buckeyes in a weekend series that may determine the WCHA regular season champion. Minnesota will look to try and snap a five game losing streak to Ohio State and their head coach former Gopher star Nadine Muzerall.

Minnesota enters the weekend on a high after sweeping then #1 Wisconsin at Ridder Arena. Minnesota used a combination of great goaltending, defense and timely goal scoring to knock off the Badgers for the third time in regulation this season and to reverse a trend that saw the Badgers dominating the series between the two teams the previous two seasons. Minnesota will look to that this weekend as the goal for the series against the Buckeyes.

Ohio State has dominated Minnesota in the past season and a half. OSU has won the last five over the Gophers including a sweep in Minneapolis in October. The Buckeyes and Gophers played six times a season ago with Ohio State winning four of six. Since Nadine Muzerall has taken over the Buckeyes program in 2016 OSU holds a 13-11-2 edge over the Gophers. Compared to pre-Muzerall where the Gophers hold a 70-8-4 edge.

Ohio State has been great once again this season. They hold a 18-4 record on the season with a pair of losses at Wisconsin and a pair of splits against Minnesota Duluth. They lead the WCHA with a .796 points percentage in 18 games played. The Gophers sit in second with a. 767 in 20 games, and Wisconsin in third at .741 in 18 games. Both Ohio State and Wisconsin have had a series cancelled due to COVID and will make up just one of the two games each in midweek games in February—The Buckeyes at St. Cloud State and Wisconsin at St. Thomas. The Buckeyes and Badgers end the regular season with a pair of games in Columbus as well—meaning this weekend’s series is huge to both Ohio State and Minnesota as it could tilt the balance at the top of the conference.

Ohio State’s power this season has been their electric offense. They lead the nation in scoring a 5.09 goals per game. Senior Sophie Jacques leads the team with 39 points and 15 goals. Ohio State is doing this all with their backup goaltender as well. Star goalie Andrea Braendli is off to the Olympics with the Swiss National Team so it has been left up to Amanda Thiele in net. She has been amazing holding a 6-1 record with a minuscule 1.06 goals against average. She allowed just two goals in a split with UMD in Columbus last weekend losing 1-0 on Friday before picking up a 3-1 win on Saturday.

Minnesota needs to start hot this weekend and play smart to hold a lead. This Buckeye team is not one that you can come back from a deficit early on, so it will be up to the Gophers to find the back of the net, and then try and keep the nation’s top offense off of the score sheet. The Gophers also need to be smart and stay out of the box. The Buckeyes own the nation’s top power-play unit converting at a 36.2% percent clip. Minnesota split time in net last weekend with Makayla Pahl earning the big win on Friday and then Lauren Bench coming back with a big win on Saturday. It would not be surprising to see a similar split this weekend. They need to avoid the emotional let down after last weekend and fight like they have a chance to hang a banner.

Unfortunately for fans, this weekends games will only stream on BTN+. Faceoff is at 5PM on Friday and 2Pm Saturday.