Columbus, OH – A week removed from a road sweep at the hands of Penn State, the Gophers faced another steep road test at the #2 ranked Ohio State Buckeyes.
What a difference a few days makes.
Relying on simple passing, timely scoring, and shutdown defense, the Minnesota Gophers (12-14-4 Overall, 9-9-3 B1G) took a first-period lead to the house, never looking back in a 4-3 victory over the highly-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes (19-6-4, 12-4-3). The Gopher win moved the team into a tie for 2nd place in the Big Ten standings with Michigan, a full 11 points behind the first-place Buckeyes.
Jack Sadek put the Gophers on the scoreboard late in the first, when his wrist shot from the right point beat Ohio State netminder Sean Romeo with just 3:16 left in the period. Sam Rossini and Nathan Burke assisted on the senior defenseman’s fourth goal of the season.
The freshman line of Burke-Sammy Walker-Blake McLaughlin was Minnesota’s best line in the first period, setting up the Sadek goal, and they were rewarded for their solid play again in the second period. Burke scored his fourth of the year at 11:56 of the second, driving the net and popping in a nice goal-mouth feed from McLaughlin. Walker set up the play, driving the right side of the goal and drawing a defender before dropping the puck behind him to McLaughlin, whose heads-up pass found Burke for the goal.
The Gophers played well the rest of the second and had a few chances to make it a 3-0 score line, but Ohio State found a way to get back into the game before the second period expired. The Buckeyes’ John Wiitala scored with just 16 seconds left in the second to pull Ohio State back within one at 2-1. The shot was only the Buckeyes’ second of the period, and it ended what was a great effort on a down note for the Gophers.
Minnesota opened the third period strong, and scored a huge goal to regain their two-goal lead when Ryan Zuhlsdorf’s slapshot found the back of the net at 6:10 to put Minnesota up 3-1. The goal was Zuhlsdorf’s first of the season and first since October 2016, and was set up by good work from the freshman line yet again. McLaughlin and Burke were credited with assists on the goal.
Ohio State is the #2 team in the country for a reason, though, and they fought back. Sam McCormick scored just over two minutes later to cut the Gopher lead to one at 3-2, and the Buckeyes started piling on the pressure.
Ohio State’s Dakota Joshua (Ben Clymer’s favorite himself) took a hooking penalty about halfway through the third, and the Gopher power play took advantage. Scott Reedy, playing up on the top PP unit for Brannon McManus who was shaken up earlier in the second, tipped a Tommy Novak wrist shot from the point past Romeo at 10:44 to put the Gophers up by two again at 4-2. Assists on the goal went to Novak and Rem Pitlick, his 99th career point as a Gopher.
Down by two again, Ohio State pulled their goalie with 4:12 left in the third, and the early pull paid off. Quinn Preston scored with 3:35 left to pull Ohio State back within one at 4-3, and the race was on. Minnesota’s Tyler Nanne drew a charging penalty with just 2:52 left in the third, so the Gophers went to a prevent-style powerplay to kill time. Ohio State was back to full strength with under a minute to go in the third, and they pulled Romeo again to make it six-on-five, but the Gophers and goalie Eric Schierhorn were able to salt the game away and win by a 4-3 score.
The win put the Gophers up into a tie for second place in the Big Ten standings. Ohio State would need to collapse down the stretch to not win the conference, but from there it’s tight between second and seventh. The Gophers and Michigan are tied with 30 points, Notre Dame is at 28, Michigan State at 27, Penn State at 26 and Wisconsin at 25. It will be a battle for home ice in the playoffs as the end of the season draws near.
The freshman line of Burke-Walker-McManus was the best line for the Gophers all game, on the ice for all three of Minnesota’s even-strength goals. Burke’s three points is a new career high for the Arizona native, and the three forwards along with Jack Sadek were the only Gophers who were plus-players on the night.
Minnesota faces off against Ohio State again Saturday night. The game starts at 6PM Eastern / 5PM Central, and can be seen on BTN, streamed on BTN2Go, and heard in the Twin Cities on AM1130.