Rhett Pitlick gets his 15th goal of the season.

Gophers Get First Conference Sweep of Season with 6-3 Win Over Buckeyes

Minneapolis, Minn. — The expectation for Minnesota from the start of this season was to finish the year across town playing at the Frozen Four. Numerous dropped points throughout the first half served as a reminder just how difficult replacing a bunch of NHL regulars was going to be for the Gophers, but No. 10 Minnesota’s (14-6-4, 7-4-3) sweep over Ohio State (9-11-4, 1-11-2) kicked off the second half of the Big Ten conference schedule with a promising showing.

The Gophers got goals throughout their lineup Saturday in a 6-3 win as all four lines chipped in with scoring from Garrett Pinoniemi, Bryce Brodzinski, Rhett Pitlick, Aaron Huglen, Jaxon Nelson and Brody Lamb. Defenseman Sam Rinzel continued his strong return from the World Junior Championship by getting two more assists, raising his total to 12 helpers in the six games since winning a gold medal in Sweden.

Most important to Motzko was that his team is playing the right way throughout an entire weekend. Earlier in the season, Minnesota seemed to get bored with playing percentage hockey and started chasing plays or trying to score on every rush that led to offense for their opponents. They avoided falling for those traps against Robert Morris for a sweep and continued that play during a sweep over the Buckeyes.

“[Possession is] all we talked about. We’re not trying to always score every time you enter the zone. Wear a team down, possess it, good things will happen… be patient,” said Motzko. “I think that might have been one of the things earlier the year, we were just in a rush to try to score a goal. Be in a rush to play good hockey. Be in a rush to have a good thirty second shift and then see what happens.”

Motzko highlighted a smart possession play by Pinoniemi on the opening goal that bought time for the Gophers to get their lines changed, bought time for Rinzel to join the possession and ultimately resulted in the chaos around the crease getting the Gophers a lead. The goal was Pinoniemi’s first of the season and third of his career.

“Pino made a great play down in the corner before. He got to a puck and protected it, he let the line change happen for everybody to get back engaged in the play,” said Motzko. “And then he finds himself right on the doorstep and bangs one in.”

Minnesota got their next goal when Mason Nevers headmaned the puck to Brodzinski on the rush to get the grad forward behind the defense, Brodzinski shelfed it short side to make it 2-0 for his 12th of the season. 

Associate Head Coach Steve Miller has been drilling some face off plays for Minnesota over the last month and Pitlick capitalized on one of them when he scored off a Oliver Moore faceoff win to make it 3-1 for his 15th of the season. Brodzinski said that historically the Gophers have focused on just getting possession off of faceoffs since he’s been here and really only in the last few weeks have they focused on plays off of won draws. Brodzinski shared he’s looking forward to seeing more success from the dot going forward.

Huglen gots an easy one to make it 4-1 5:17 into the third period taking advantage of a nice drive through the slot by Lamb drew all the attention from the defense and goaltender, Lamb threw it to the back post for Huglen for his fifth of the season. Nelson gets his seventh of the season beating Ohio State goalie Logan Terness five-hole on the rush 9:19 into the third to make it 5-1. Lamb capped off the scoring by getting the empty netter with a shot from just outside the blue line with 34 seconds to go.

The Buckeyes did make the game interesting down the stretch with goals from Joe Dunlap, Jake Dunlap and Caden Brown along with some physical play that boiled over resulting in a game disqualification penalty for Cam Thiesing after he speared Jimmy Snuggerud after the final goal.

The speed limit goes up for Minnesota the next two weeks as they’ll face the No. 7 team in the PairWise Michigan State next weekend the No. 4 team in the PairWise the following week. The two series will be key in deciding the race in the Big Ten and seeding for the NCAA Tournament.