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Minnesota Hockey: Gopher Men and Women Earn Huge Sweeps

Both teams gained ground over the weekend

eric miller—gophersports.com

The Minnesota Gophers hockey teams both earned huge sweeps over the weekend that saw them gain ground on both their conference opponents at the top of the conference standings, but set them up in a great place in their respective pairwise rankings. The Gopher men now sit just two points out of first place in the Big Ten, while the Gopher women can clinch their first WCHA regular season title in three seasons next weekend.

The Gopher men went into Columbus to face a #8 ranked Ohio State team that had not lost in regulation since splitting a series with the Gophers in Minneapolis back in November. Minnesota outskated, outscored and outplayed the Buckeyes while missing three players putting the Gophers within striking distance of Michigan atop the Big Ten.

Minnesota picked up a 3-2 win on Friday night as a trio of freshmen stepped up in a big time spot to help the Gophers. After the Buckeyes took a 1-0 lead the Gophers struck back with a pair of goals late in the first period by Chaz Lucius and Triatan Broz.

The freshmen continued their play when the triple frosh line of Lucius/Rhett Pitlick/Aaron Hugelin struck again with Hugelin’s 5th goal on the year in the second period.

The Gophers gave up a quick goal to start the third [period to make things very interesting, but Justen Close stood tall down the stretch and made a career high 32 saves to preserve the 3-2 win.

Saturday the Gophers decided close was not what they wanted and opened the floodgates.

Minnesota opened the scoring this time as Blake McLaughlin scored just 45 seconds into the game.

Ohio State tied the game with just under five minutes left in the first periods, but then the Gophers ended the opening period with a bang yet again. Mason nevers cleaned up a puck in front for a power play goal with 1:09 left in the period, and then on the next shift the captain Sammy Walker would make it 3-1 just 24 seconds later to give the Gophers a 3-1 lead at the intermission.

Minnesota kept the pressure on in the second as they would go up 4-1 when Rhett Pitlick decided that since all his linemates had scored Friday night he better keep pace.

Then in the third Pitlick decided one wasn’t enough and picked up his second of the game ending the night of Buckeye goalie Jakub Dobes.

Things would get a bit chippy in the end of the third period as the Buckeyes took out their frustrations, but it would be the Gophers who got the worst of the penalties with Lucius and Ben Brinkman both getting game misconducts for their actions, but both are not expected to see any supplemental discipline from the Big Ten and should be available for Friday night’s game at Penn State.

Michigan currently leads the Big Ten with 45 points, while the Gophers are in second with 43 and Ohio State has 42 in third. The Wolverines and Gophers both have four games left, while the Buckeyes only have two games remaining. Minnesota heads to Penn State next weekend before finishing the regular season against Wisconsin at home. Ohio State heads to Ann Arbor this weekend and then Michigan heads to Notre Dame for the regular season finale. Minnesota will need some help if they want to win the regular season title and the opening round bye in the Big Ten Tournament from either the Buckeyes or Irish and will need to take care of business, but it’s definitely doable.

The Gopher also got a great weekend in the pairwise rankings. The Gophers sweep added to some other favorable results around the nation saw the Gophers jump from 10th headed into the series against the Buckeyes to 6th place after the weekend. Minnesota will not really be able to move up much higher the next two weekends with series against low ranked teams, but the Gophers should feel much safer about making he NCAA Tournament today then they did a week ago.

Gopher Women thisclose to WCHA Title

The Gopher women took care of business sweeping a home and home series against St. Cloud State—through not without a bit of drama. Add that to some help from Bemidji State and Minnesota can clinch their first WCHA Regular season title next weekend against last place St. Thomas.

Minnesota started slowly in Friday’s game up in St. Cloud. The Huskies would score twice in the first period to take a 2-0 lead into the intermission. But Minnesota turned it on in period 2 as did senior Abigail Boreen. She would score her first goal of the game to cut the lead to 2-1

With ten seconds left in the period Catie Skaja would find the back of the net on a gorgeous tic-tac-toe play from Boreen and Heise and tie the game up after two.

The Abigail Boreen show really got into gear in period three. She got sprung on a break away on a pass from Heise to make it 3-2 Gophers, and then finished off the hatty to make it 4-2 just minutes later.

Taylor Heise would add an empty net goal and SCSU would add one in the final moments of the game to compete the 5-3 scoring.

Saturday the Gophers returned home and once again the Huskies put up a hell of a fight before the Gophers finally overpowered them. The game would be tied at 1 after one as Skaja would score her second of the weekend just 3:05 into the game. The Huskies would add one five minutes later.

The Gophers would go up 2-1 after two periods as Savanah Norcross would tip in an Olivia Knowles shot from the point.

Knowles would get her own goal early in the third to make it 3-1, and then Minnesota would add a pair of shorthanded goals, an empty net one from Skaja, and then a fifth and final goal from Ella Huber to complete the 5-2 scoring.

The Gophers got some help in their chance to win the conference title when Bemidji State scored an empty net goal...in a tie game to beat Ohio State 3-2 on Friday night in Bemidji, OSU had pulled their goalie with the puck in the Bemidji end looking for a win in regulation which they would need to be able to pass the Gophers for the WCHA crown. They didn’t get it and the Beavers helped Minnesota jump to an even greater advantage.

Minnesota heads the WCHA with a .795 points earned percentage while the Buckeyes and Wisconsin Badgers are in second with matching .760 percentages. The Buckeyes and Badgers play one another this week in Columbus to close out the regular season while the Gophers have a home and home against last place St. Thomas. The Gophers can clinch the WCHA title with various point totals based upon the results of the Buckeyes/Badgers series.

If one team sweeps the WI/OSU series the Gophers can clinch with 4 points against St. Thomas this weekend.

If one of OSU/WI earns 5 points, the Gophers need 3.

If one of OSU/WI earns 4 points, the Gophers need 2.

If the Badgers and Buckeyes split, Minnesota needs just one point against the Tommies to win the conference crown.

Minnesota also is squarely sitting in the #1 spot in the Pairwise rankings at the moment, giving them a leg up on the #1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament.

Things are looking awfully golden in Minneapolis...