Minnesota Advances to B1G Tournament Final vs Michigan with Season on the Line
Minneapolis, MN – “We needed the one goal to kind of get us going.”
Coach Don Lucia knows that his team needs a spark sometimes to kickstart the offense. Trailing 1-0 to The Ohio State University after two periods at the Xcel Energy Center Friday night, Lucia’s team was in need of a boost if they wanted to keep their season alive.
That boost came just 1:36 into the final frame.
Buoyed by an early-third period goal by freshman Tyler Sheehy, the Gophers rode the wave of momentum, getting three more goals in the third period by juniors Vinni Lettieri and Taylor Cammarata (x2) to lead Minnesota (20-16-0) to a 4-2 victory over The Ohio State Buckeyes (14-18-4). The win puts the Gophers into the B1G Ten Tournament Championship game Saturday versus an explosive Michigan Wolverines squad.
Minnesota’s game got off to a rough start, with Vinni Lettieri taking an early boarding penalty at 4:27 of the first period. The Gophers were able to kill the penalty with relative ease, however, and looked to turn the tide when OSU’s Dakota Joshua got the gate for a check from behind at 7:31 of the opening stanza.
The Minnesota PP, clicking at an anemic 14.6% since the calendar turned to 2016, struggled to maintain offensive zone possession, and five minutes of five-on-four drained off the clock in what seemed like a blink of an eye. The Gophers were sloppy with the puck during the man-advantage, and that play stuck around after the OSU penalty expired – just 30 seconds after the Buckeyes got back to full strength, Kevin Miller picked up an uncleared rebound off of a scrum in the slot and popped it past Eric Schierhorn to give Ohio State a 1-0 lead at 13:01.
The rest of the first period wasn’t pretty, but the Gophers managed to make it to the locker room down just one goal after one, despite a whopping seven Ohio State shots on goal from around the crease in the period.
Minnesota picked up momentum in the second period, gradually taking over the possession and winning puck battles to keep offensive pressure on the Buckeyes’ Christian Frey. Frey was solid in his net and up to the task, stopping all 13 shots on goal that he faced in the middle period.
Lucia mentioned earlier in the week that he expected whomever the Gophers lined up against Friday to have an early advantage from playing the night before, but for Minnesota to slowly gain control as fresh legs won out over tired ones.
Both Ohio State’s coach Steve Rohlik and forward Nick Schilkey mentioned that they may have “run out of gas” in the third. Rohlik stated that the team “didn’t leave anything in the tank,” but for the Gophers, who crucially did not have to play Thursday, the lack of ice time was a boon in late in the game.
Minnesota’s leaders knew they wanted to get on the board early in the third and create some momentum, and freshman forward Tyler Sheehy took advantage of a bobbled puck in the neutral zone to burst onto a two-on-one with Justin Kloos. Sheehy waited Frey out before sniping a wrister that just beat him high on the glove side to tie the game at 1-1 at 1:36. The Gophers fed off of the offensive momentum, generating chance after chance and pressing their possession advantage deeper with each shift.
“We knew what we needed to do in order to play tomorrow,” Sheehy stated after the game, “so I think it was important for us to get a goal early and feed off that, so I think an early goal gave us a little bit of energy and then after that we were kind of rolling from there.
Lucia also summed up the momentum boost: “In the third period, Tyler’s goal was the critical one to tie it one to one and when you score, you get some energy from that.”
The Gophers were again rewarded at 5:20 of the third, when Vinni Lettieri collected a beautiful Leon Bristedt backhand pass from behind the net in the slot and roofed a wrist shot past Frey to give Minnesota their first lead at 2-1.
Sheehy again made a play to get the Gophers a great scoring chance, backchecking hard to steal a puck right at the blue line off a Buckeye stick before threading a pass through traffic to a wide open Taylor Cammarata. Alone in front, Cammy’s wrister from the low circle beat Frey again high on the glove side, giving Minnesota some breathing room at 3-1. Cammarata’s next goal was the nail in the coffin, as he snuck behind the defense and scored five-hole on a breakaway to put Minnesota up 4-1 with just 3:22 left in the game.
Ohio State pulled their goalie and scored with 1:16 left to cut the lead to two, and Minnesota took two late boarding penalties to give Ohio State a chance at the end, but the Gophers hung on to win and advance to the B1G Ten Championship game.
Minnesota will take on PWR #6 Michigan Saturday at 7:00PM, for a chance to punch a ticket to the NCAA Tournament’s West Regional hosted in St. Paul. Michigan dismantled Penn State 7-2 in their semifinal game Friday afternoon, getting four goals from freshman sensation Kyle Connor. Connor leads the nation in both goals (34) and points (65), with seven of his goals coming in four games against Minnesota. The “CCM” line of Connor, JT Compher and Tyler Motte (who are #s 1, 2 and 4 in points, respectively) will be key for Minnesota’s defense to keep in check if they want to repeat as B1G Ten Tournament champs. Michigan has scored less than four goals just twice in 2016, with one of those games being Minnesota’s 3-2 OT win to maintain the lead in the B1G standings. The Gophers have no chance for an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament, so their season will end tomorrow unless they can best Michigan in the Title game.