The Ohio State men’s hockey team is getting back in action after a week off, and it will look take advantage of a slumping Minnesota Golden Gophers squad.
Minnesota (14-13-0, 9-3-0) currently sits tied for first in the Big Ten standings but has lost three of its last four games heading into the series. The Buckeyes (8-14-2, 3-5-2) will look to solidify and improve on their fourth place in the standings entering the second half of Big Ten play.
The last time these two sides met each other resulted in two overtime victories in favor of the Golden Gophers back on Dec. 4 and 5.
“Certainly we thought about it. We went back to watch video on that,” OSU coach Steve Rohlik said regarding the overtime defeats. “We knew a while ago they’re a different team, now we’re a different team. Now our biggest thing is we’ve got to come out and play our best hockey on Friday. They’re a very good team, they’re leading the pack, and we know we’ve got to get points.”
“They love to have the puck”
The Scarlet and Gray will have to put extra work in on offense, as Minnesota’s stingy defense has allowed only 31 goals in Big Ten play, which leads the conference.
“I think the biggest thing is they have the puck a lot,” Rohlik said. “It’s just like an NFL team, when you grind the clock and you have possession of the ball, you’re not going to get as many chances to score, and I think that’s Minnesota.
“They love to have the puck. They want to have the puck offensively, but for us we’ve just got to take advantage of the chances, and we’ve got to be heavier on pucks, and we’ve got to try to keep the puck in their end, and I think that’s the key.”
Stopping the Buckeyes’ nemeses
For OSU, junior goaltender Christian Frey was awarded the Big Ten Third Star of the Week two weeks ago after his stellar performances against Michigan State. Frey led Big Ten goalies with a .930 save percentage and a 2.03 goals-against average in the series against the Spartans.
Frey and the defense will be responsible for stopping a longtime nuisance, junior forward Taylor Cammarata. Cammarata is Minnesota’s active leading scorer against the Buckeyes with 13 points from three goals and 10 assists in a dozen games. Junior forward Justin Kloos collected four points from one goal and three assists in the last matchup between the two squads.
“They’ve got a lot of those guys, that’s the problem. We can’t just focus on one. We do that and they got about 10 other that can beat us,” Rohlik said. “We respect them, but you can’t fear them. You’ve got to go into those games. We certainly have a lot of respect for who they are, what they are, but we’ve got to go out there with the confidence to win the hockey game.”
Offense, special teams the keys
Junior forward David Gust will be looking to extend his point to 14 games after notching his team-leading 18th assist in the 2-1 victory over Michigan State back on Jan. 30. Freshman forward Mason Jobst also seems fit to be a key component in breaking down the Golden Gopher defense; he is second in scoring among Big Ten rookies with 22 points and has a point in nine of his last 10 games.
“Obviously, there is still some fire in us because we dropped two big games there to start the Big Ten, and we’re not going to forget those games, and we’re definitely excited to get another chance at them,” Jobst said. “They’re top of the Big Ten, and they’re going to defend their title, so I’m sure they’re going to come at us just as hard.”
Minnesota has also been dangerous while shorthanded. Their six shorthanded goals are the most for the program since the 2011-12 season. On the other hand, OSU junior forward Nick Schilkey has produced a team-best five goals while on the power play.
“I think we’ve come a long way in a lot of areas but it’s just things we’ve been stressing from day one, our (defensive) zone coverage, getting heavy over pucks in their zone, and things like that,” Schilkey said. “I think we’ve done a better job of that, but we still have room to work. I think if we can clean up those areas we’ll be able to come out on top this weekend.”
Despite their less-than-stellar form, the Golden Gophers continued to have success off faceoffs. In its last three games, Minnesota won 127 out of 184 matchups in the circle. Junior forward Vinni Lettieri leads the Big Ten with a .614 win percentage, which ranks him seventh nationally. Freshman forward John Wiitala leads the Buckeyes in faceoff wins with a .571 percentage.
The puck is scheduled to drop between the Big Ten foes at the Schottenstein Center at 6:30 p.m. on Friday and again at 7 p.m. the following evening.