After a hard-fought pair of rivalry overtime games last weekend, the #1 ranked Minnesota Gophers now leave behind the non-conference schedule for a few weeks. Minnesota opens Big Ten play this weekend in Columbus against #11 Ohio State, in an arena where Minnesota has faired well in the recent past. Hopefully they can keep it up this weekend and get a jump in the conference race.
Minnesota hits the road after a pair of overtime games against North Dakota last weekend that saw the Gophers win 3-2 on Friday night and drop a 5-4 rematch on Saturday. Minnesota dominated the play for the majority of both games but struggled at times to get the puck past UND goalie Drew DeRidder. Losing freshman phenom Logan Cooley to a game misconduct penalty for facemasking after a North Dakota review midway through Saturday night’s game did not help either. But Minnesota learned a lot during the series and can now take that forward to the conference schedule.
Ohio State comes into the weekend after a home sweep of Bentley and is 6-1-1 on the season. They lead the Big Ten with six points after an early season sweep of Wisconsin. The only blemish on the Buckeyes schedule so far this season has been a series at a now top ten ranked UConn team where the teams fought to a scoreless tie on Friday before the Huskies thrashed the Buckeyes 6-1 on Saturday.
The Gophers offense so far this season as been led by a trio of senior blue liners, and a group of young forwards. Senior Jackson LaCombe leads the Gophers with svene points on the season, but right behind him with six points each are a quadruple of freshman and sophomore forwards for the Gophers who have each at one time or another lit a spark. Jimmy Snuggerud leads the team with 5 goals, Mathew Knies is right behind with four including the OT winner last Friday, and Cooley and Rhett Pitlick have been doing much of the setting up of Knies and Snuggerud with four and five assists respectively. Right behind them with five points are the other two defensive leaders in Ryan Johnson and Brock Faber.
The Buckeyes are led by a freshman phenom as well as Stephen Halliday leads OSU with 9 points and seven assists. Kamil Sadlocha leads the team with five goals with Jake Wise right behind with four.
In goal it will be a battle between a pair of the Big Ten’s best. Reigning Big Ten Rookie of the Year Jakob Dobes will bein the OSU net and comes into the weekend with a 1.80 goals against average and a save percentage of .931. Minnesota will counter with Justen Close who has been great once again this season allowing just 1.58 goals per game and a save percentage of .924. The Buckeyes would love to play to more of a 2-1 type game, and Minnesota would love to open it up and see the goal tallies rise. Whomever can play their style most closely this weekend should have the upper hand.
Special teams will also be key this weekend with OSU appearing to have an advantage. Both teams have relatively similar numbers on the power play with Minnestoa converting at a 25% clip and OSU a 21.05%. But the penalty kill numbers are quite stark. Ohio State has been nearly perfect this season allowing just one power play goal on 28 chances, and scoring three shorthanded goals themselves. Meanwhile Minnesota’s numbers look worse than they are after giving up a trio of power play goals to North Dakota in that insane second period last Saturday. But Minnesota is only killing 70% of their penalties so far allowing six goals in 20 opportunities. Still, that number will need to be much better for the Gophers to confidently feel good about a potential sweep this weekend. Minnesota is 38-9-5 all time against the Buckeyes, the best of any Big Ten opponent. It would be nice to see that number hit 40 by Saturday evening.
HOW TO WATCH:
#1 Minnesota Gophers @ #1 Ohio State Buckeyes
Where: Value City Arena, Columbus, Ohio
When: 5:30 PM Friday; 4 PM Saturday
TV: Big Ten Network—Friday; NO TV Saturday
Radio:1130AM/103.5 FM/ IHeart Radio App