Gophers Sweep Ohio State, Keep NCAA At-Large Hopes Alive

Columbus, OH – For twenty seconds, Ohio State and Minnesota were tied in Saturday’s rubber match in Columbus.

One early goal, and the Gophers never looked back.

Buoyed by their fastest goal of the season, Minnesota (13-14-4 Overall, 10-9-3 B1G) swept the class of the Big Ten Ohio State Buckeyes (19-7-4, 12-5-3) to remain in second place in the Big Ten conference standings as the season comes to a close in just a few weekend’s time.

The Gophers scored 20 seconds into the game to take an early 1-0 lead.  Jack Sadek laced a perfect pass up the seam of the ice from his own defensive zone to a charging Sampo Ranta.  Ranta and Scott Reedy beat their checks, and the two were in all alone on a two-man breakaway.  Ranta fired a quick pass across to Reedy on his right in the low slot, and Reedy’s snapshot beat OSU’s Tommy Nappier to put the Gophers up 1-0.

Minnesota expanded the lead to 2-0 before the 10-minute mark of the first, with Nathan Burke roofing a wrister past Nappier after another brilliant Sammy Walker rush.  The goal was Burke’s fourth point of the weekend, and the Scottsdale freshman earned Big Ten First Star of the Week honors for his efforts.

The Gophers went up 3-0 at 6:42 of the second on a Brent Gates goal, and it looked like it might turn into an easy win for the Maroon and Gold.  But Ohio State is ranked #2 for a reason, and the Buckeyes stormed back with two goals to close out the second and bring the game back to 3-2 going into the final frame.

Ohio State outshot the Gophers 30-6 in the final 40 minutes of play, which means that Mat Robson had to be sharp in net to keep Minnesota in the winner’s circle come the end of the game.  The Gophers scored on one of just four shots in the second, and despite the Buckeye onslaught managed to score on one of their two shots in the third.  Tyler Sheehy’s wrist shot at 8:47 of the third beat Nappier after an opportunistic Rem Pitlick rush to put Minnesota up 4-2.  The single assist by Pitlick was the junior’s 100th point as a Gopher.

The Buckeyes scored with 10:02 left in the third setting up a thrilling finish, but Robson stopped 20 of 21 shots in the final stanza to record his 10th victory of the season.

Any hope of the Gophers earning an at-large bid into the NCAA Tournament relies on the team winning nearly all if not all of their remaining games before losing in the Big Ten championship game.  It is hard to overstate how badly the Ferris State and St. Lawrence losses hurt this team.  If Minnesota wins those two games, they’d be sitting in 15th place in the PairWise Rankings instead of 22nd.  There is still a chance for the team to make the big dance without winning the Big Ten playoff tournament, but they basically cannot lose the rest of the way if they want to play themselves in.

Speaking of those Big Ten playoffs, the sweep moved Minnesota up to 33 total points and kept them in solo second place, two points ahead of Notre Dame (the Gophers’ opponent this upcoming weekend) and three ahead of Michigan.  As a reminder, the regular season champion in the Big Ten gets a bye into the semifinals, while the other six teams play best-of-three first round series.  Two single-game semifinals will take place the following weekend, and the weekend after that is a single-game championship.

Minnesota and Michigan State only have one weekend of Big Ten games remaining while all other teams have two, so the Gophers will have to rack up as many points as they can against the Fighting Irish this weekend before watching what the other conference teams do the following weekend, the last of the regular season.  A Gopher sweep would guarantee a home series in the first round of the Big Ten playoffs.

The Gophers host top-ten Arizona State to close out the year.