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Confident Buckeyes await Gophers as B1G crunch time is here

Picked for the cellar of the Big Ten in the preseason poll, Ohio State has been the surprise of college hockey, and the Buckeyes lead the conference with three weeks of play remaining.

Ohio State vs Minnesota
Minnesota Gophers forward Jonny Sorenson celebrated his game-winning goal in the first period of his team's 2-0 blanking of the Ohio State Buckeyes on Saturday, Nov. 13, 2021, at 3M Arena at Mariucci in Minneapolis. <br/>
Bjorn Franke / University of Minnesota Athletics

COLUMBUS, Ohio – Way back in November, the Ohio State Buckeyes were college hockey’s great mystery when they visited Minneapolis for two games. Picked by the Big Ten coaches to finish seventh in the seven-team hockey conference, the Buckeyes were off to a 6-3-0 start and getting some buzz as a dark horse in the conference race.

The Minnesota Gophers dispelled that notion in the first 20 minutes of their weekend series. Or so they thought. Trailing 3-0 after one period at 3M Arena at Mariucci, the Buckeyes kept shooting, and caught Gophers goalie Jack LaFontaine on a rare off night. When the final horn sounded, the scoreboard read “Buckeyes 4, Gophers 3” and any remaining mystery about Ohio State had been solved.

“On the road, at Minnesota, down 3-zip, usually that one’s filed in the bank,” said Steve Rohlik, the St. Paul native who is in his ninth season as the Buckeyes head coach. “For us to come back was a huge win for us. But it was a long time ago. I think they’re a much better hockey team and hopefully we’re a better hockey team.”

LaFontaine responded with a 2-0 shutout (his last as a collegian) the next night for a weekend split, but the Buckeyes didn’t leave the U of M campus defeated. They have gone 13-4-2 since then, and sit atop the Big Ten standings with three weeks left in the regular season.

After a COVID mess of a season a year ago, the Buckeyes brought in three of the most dynamic rookies in college hockey. Their top scorer is freshman Georgii Markulov. Their top defender is freshman Mason Lohrei. Their every night goalie is freshman Jakub Dobes.


Gophers coach Bob Motzko, who has known Rohlik, Buckeyes assistant coach Steve Miller, and their style for a long time is not surprised by any of it.

Ohio State men's hockey coach Steve Rohlik
Contributed / Ohio State Athletics

“They’re well-coached, they don’t beat themselves,” Motzko said. “What’s changed (since November) is the big impact they’ve got from their freshmen. The goaltender, Lohrei, Georgii … all freshmen and making a huge impact in their team, so they have their confidence going now.”

The Gophers are a confident bunch as well, coming off a sweep of Michigan State which clinched home ice in the first round of the conference playoffs. They are still very much in the hunt for the conference title with six games to play, but need wins, and some help, to overtake Michigan.

The two wins versus the Spartans last weekend marked the Gophers’ first home sweep since October, but it is worth noting that since two losses versus Minnesota Duluth on Oct. 22-23, Motzko’s team has won at least one game every weekend.

“I’ve liked our team all year. I know we don’t sweep all the time, but we’ve found ways to keep getting better,” he said. “We’ve had junk thrown at us and our team keeps battling. And we’ve just got to keep doing it. What’s important is we’ve been good all year long.”

The three Gophers at the Olympics will miss this series and next weekend’s trip to Penn State. Motzko said he is hopeful that injured forward Jaxon Nelson, who resumed skating this week, could return by next weekend.

Weekend details

Friday’s game at Ohio State is a 5:30 p.m. CT start, while the Saturday rematch faces off at 5 p.m. CT. Both games will be broadcast by Big Ten Network with Dan Kelly and Paul Caponigri on the call.

On radio, the Gophers can be heard on 1130 AM / 103.5 FM in the Twin Cities with Wally Shaver and Frank Mazzocco describing the action. Saturday’s game will be carried by KFAN+ which is 96.7 FM in the metro area.


Postgame interviews with coach Motzko and Gophers players can be seen live, roughly 10 minutes after the final horn at The Rink Live’s Facebook page .

The Gophers lead the all-time series versus Ohio State with a 35-8-5 record. They first played on Dec. 26, 1968, during a Big Ten holiday tournament in Madison, Wis., with the Gophers prevailing 10-1.

Jess Myers covers college hockey, as well as outdoors, general sports and travel, for The Rink Live and the Forum Communications family of publications. He came to FCC in 2018 after three decades of covering sports as a freelancer for a variety of publications, while working full time in politics and media relations. A native of Warroad, Minn. (the real Hockeytown USA), Myers has a degree in journalism/communications from the University of Minnesota Duluth. He lives in the Twin Cities. Contact Jess via email at jrmyers@forumcomm.com, or find him on Twitter via @JessRMyers. English speaker.
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