The #2 ranked Minnesota Gophers women’s hockey team will get their first tough test of the season this weekend as they head to Columbus for a road series against the defending NCAA Champions and #1 ranked team in the nation in Ohio State. The Gophers have struggled against the Buckeyes since former Gopher star and assistant coach Nadine Muzerall took over as the Buckeyes coach six seasons ago, and will need to see if they can find some way to get through OSU if they once again want to get the the top of the mountain.
In their most recent matchup the Buckeyes defeated the Gophers 3-2 in overtime of the WCHA Final Faceoff Championship game at Ridder Arena last spring. The vast majority of the rosters of both teams have returned this season and will have input on this weekend’s games. Minnesota returns their top line led by Patty Kazmaier Award Winner Taylor Heise. Heise is third on the team with 8 points this season and is joined by her linemates in Abigal Boreen and Catie Skaja who have seven and six points on the season. Minnesota is benefiting from the Olympic return of two of their stars in Grace Zumwinkle and Abbey Murphy. Zumwinkle leads the Gophers in goals with seven and points with 12 early in the season while Murphy is right behind with six and 11. That offensive power has the Gophers averaging 6 goals per game second in the country behind only Wisconsin at 6.3.
Ohio State is led by defender Sophie Jacques. A Patty Kaz Finalist last season and WCHA Defensive Player of the Year, she has picked up right where she left off and leads the Buckeyes with seven goals and 12 points on the season. Jenn Gardner also has 12 points on the year and leads the Buckeyes with 8 assists. They also return an Olympian as Emma Maltais returns for her senior season after playing for Team Canada last winter. Much of Ohio State’s success has come on the power play where they are scoring one third of the time so far this season. Minnesota has been good on the penalty kill allowing just one power play goal in 20 chances.
The goaltending will also be a match up to watch. Minnesota seems to be handing over the #1 job to sophomore Skyler Vetter. Vetter has started three of the last four games for Minnesota and came in relief in the other. Through five games this season she has a 0.94 goals against average and a .949 save percentage. Ohio State will be riding junior Amanda Thiele. She has not been as sharp this season and through six games she is allowing 2.14 goals per game with a save percentage of just .874.
But Minnesota will need to get out of their mental hurdle against the Buckeyes. Since Muzerall took over Ohio State is 17-9-2 against Minnesota and was 4-1 against Minnesota a year ago. She has been able to outcoach Brad Frost in recent seasons especially as she has built up her talent base. She currently has the Buckeyes on an 18 game winning streak dating back to their NCAA run a year ago. This is now the second time in their history where Minnesota and Ohio State have faced off as the #1 and #2 teams in the country, and the trend is continuing to show that there will be many more in the near future.
Faceoff for Friday night’s game will be 5 PM and will stream live on BTN+. Saturday’s game will begin at 2PM and will both stream on BTN+ and be picked up locally in Minnesota on Fox9+, the first of 10 WCHA games this season to be on local TV in Minnesota and the Twin Cities.