Columbus, OH – In an ultimately disappointing showing, the Minnesota Gophers (9-5-4 Overall (2-0 OT), 4-4-1-3 B1G) won Friday and tied Saturday against the Ohio State Buckeyes (5-8-4 (0-0), 0-8-2-0), losing the Saturday shootout to earn a total of four Big Ten points on the weekend.
Friday’s first period was a wild one, with five total goals scored. Minnesota scored three of the five to hold a 3-2 lead after the first, with Jimmy Snuggerud netting the first two Gopher goals of the game. Rhett Pitlick scored late in the period to extend his goal-scoring streak to seven games.
Minnesota has struggled all season to extend leads and take control of games, and this weekend was no exception. Ohio State’s Stephen Halliday scored midway through the second to tie the game at 3-3. Connor Kurth scored late in the second period for Minnesota to regain the lead at 4-3.
In the third, the Gophers finally got that separation goal when Brody Lamb scored on the powerplay to put Minnesota up 5-3. The Buckeyes fought back, scoring with just under 5 minutes left in the final frame to draw within one at 5-4. Despite a furious comeback effort, the Gophers pulled out the Friday win. Ohio State outshot Minnesota 38-25 in the losing effort, with Justen Close making 34 stops.
Saturday was a much different game, with both teams playing a tighter, more structured defensive style. Ohio State’s Cam Thiesing put the Buckeyes up 1-0 early in the first period, creating a turnover deep in the Gopher zone and banging in a point-blank chance.
Minnesota tied the game at 1-1 at 10:05 of the second period, when Ryan Chesley’s one-touch pass up the middle found Aaron Huglen on a partial breakaway. Huglen used his strength to fend off two Buckeye defenders before his mid-slot wrister beat OSU goalie Kristoffer Eberly five-hole.
Neither team scored the rest of the way despite quality chances on both sides. Close and Eberly were both strong to earn their respective teams at least one point.
The overtime period was all Ohio State, who put up five shots to Minnesota’s zero. Again, though, Close was strong to send it to the shootout.
Minnesota has been comically bad in the shootout since it’s been in existence, and Saturday was no exception. The Gophers have not scored once all season on their shootout chances, going 0 for 9 in shootout opportunities against Michigan, Michigan State, and the exhibition shootout in Duluth. Saturday’s inept performance brings the Gophers to zero goals on 12 shootout chances for the season. Ohio State scored on their first shootout attempt to earn the extra point.
Prior to Saturday’s contest, Ohio State had just two points from a shootout win against Michigan. Even though it goes down as a tie in the Pairwise, it’s a negative result for this Gopher team that now sits firmly on the Pairwise bubble heading into the break.
Gopher coach Bob Motzko stressed that the team “empty the tank” in their last two games of 2023 against the lowly Buckeyes. If this is what the team has in “the tank”, the holiday break couldn’t come at a better time. Unfortunately, this Gopher team needs to get a lot better than they’ve been in the first half.
The Gophers have quality players, good coaching, and tons of big-game experience. They’ll need to start playing up to their potential in order to just make the NCAA tournament, let alone make a deep run in it.
Minnesota now has three weeks off before their next game, an exhibition contest against the U-18 team. The Gophers’ next game that counts is Sunday 1/7 against a Colorado College team that just went into Grand Forks to sweep the #1 ranked Fighting Hawks.