Gophers have all that they need in key road sweep at Ohio State
Some predicted disaster when the Minnesota Gophers sent three of their top players to the Olympics in the middle of the season. Instead, they have now won four in a row and are battling for the Big Ten lead.
COLUMBUS, Ohio – Some good teams have depth. Some good teams have talent. The Minnesota Gophers are looking like they have the right mix of both as we barrel headlong toward the end of college hockey’s regular season.
With three of their best players away in China skating for Team USA, the supposedly shorthanded Gophers have now won four in a row, and are challenging for the top of the Big Ten standings after a 5-1 win at Ohio State on Saturday.
Rhett Pitlick had a pair of goals for the Gophers, who took an early lead and kept building throughout, moving ahead of the Buckeyes in the conference standings. With the win, Minnesota improved to 19-11-0 overall and 14-6-0 in the Big Ten. They moved ahead of Ohio State, which entered the weekend atop the conference standings, and are in second place, two points behind Michigan, with two weekends of play remaining.
“It was a pretty solid effort out of our group again tonight, just up and down the lineup,” Gophers coach Bob Motzko said. “There are a couple of key things that can hurt you on the road and our penalty kill was strong, Justen Close was strong. He made a couple real key saves when (Ohio State) could’ve gotten back into the game. Getting the lead on the road, again, was monster.”
Blake McLaughlin had a two-point night, giving him 99 for his Gophers career and Gophers goalie Close improved to 7-3-0 as the team’s starter with 29 saves.
Tate Singleton got the lone goal for the Buckeyes (21-9-2, 13-7-2) who had won seven in a row coming into the weekend.
In what can best be described as a near-perfect road period, the Gophers emerged from the opening 20 minutes with a 3-1 lead, as McLaughlin posted a goal and an assist, and the struggling power play finally clicked.
The final strains of the Star Spangled Banner had just concluded with McLaughlin completed a rush to the net by flipping a rebound past Jakub Dobes from the side of the net just 45 seconds into the game.
"Obviously the script went sideways right from the start. They score in the first minute and we just weren't ourselves," said Buckeyes coach Steve Rohlik. "Give them credit. They're a good hockey team with a lot of skill. And for the first time this season, we just didn't look like ourselves."
After an errant pass by Sammy Walker was intercepted and the Buckeyes tied the game, the Gophers scored twice in less than a minute late in the period to take a two-goal lead into the break. First, Mason Nevers converted on the man-advantage, then Walker popped in a goal from low to the goalie’s right just 44 seconds later.
Gophers defenseman Jackson LaCombe, who had two assists on Saturday, was run hard into the end boards late in the first and was slow to get to the bench. The Gophers coaches challenged the play for potential head contact, but after a video review, the officials determined there was no penalty on the play, which negated Minnesota’s timeout.
The Gophers blocked 18 shots in the game and made life easier for Close throughout, save for the one bad turnover.
“I think we played a great team game. We knew how good they are in transition and shut it down,” said Close.
After killing a penalty early in the second period, Pitlick scored the second goal of his career to extend the Minnesota lead. He added a goal midway through the third which chased Dobes from the net. Ryan Snowden finished the game in goal for the Buckeyes, who close out the regular season next weekend with a series at Michigan.
It was another statement by the Gophers that even without the three Olympians, who return in two weeks. Gophers assistant coach Garrett Raboin wrote “We Have All That We Need” on the board in the team’s home locker room, and Motzko added, “And We Need All That We Have.”
“That’s the quote, and it’s proving to be true,” said Pitlick.
The Gophers close out their road schedule next weekend with a series at Penn State.
Minnesota 5, Ohio State 1
Ohio State 1-0-0—1
First period — 1. MN, Blake McLaughlin 11 (Jackson LaCombe, Bryce Brodzinski), 0:45. 2. OS, Tate Singleton 9 (unassisted), 15:10. 3. MN, Mason Nevers 6 (Grant Cruikshank, Chaz Lucius), 18:31, (pp). 4. MN, Sammy Walker 12 (McLaughlin, Brodzinski), 19:13. Penalties — Brodzinski, MN (hooking), 10:53; Kamil Sadlocha, OS (interference), 16:33.
Second period — 5. MN, Rhett Pitlick 2 (Aaron Huglen, LaCombe), 3:53. Penalties — Matt Staudacher, MN (holding), 1:21; Pitlick, MN (hooking), 7:17; Singleton, OS (interference), 18:13.
Third period — 6. Pitlick 3 (Carl Fish), 9:48. Penalties — Singleton, OS (interference), 4:49; Brodzinzki, MN (cross checking), 10:46; Sadlocha, OS (unsportsmanlike conduct), 10:46; Lucius, MN (5 & game misconduct, face masking), 18:21; Will Riedell, OS (5 & game misconduct, face masking), 18:21; Ben Brinkman, MN (5 & game misconduct, clipping), 19:33.
Shots on goal — MN 15-21-14—50; OS 8-13-9—30. Goalies — Justen Close, MN (30 shots-29 saves); Jakub Dobes, OS (45-40); Ryan Snowden, OS (5-5). Power plays — MN 1-of-3, OS 0-of-4. Referees — Jonathan Sitarski, Tony Czech. Linesmen — Nick Huff, Justin Cornell. Att. — 6,208.