Both the Buckeyes and Minnesota entered this series as two of the top-four offenses in the country — and in Game One, these Big Ten foes proved just why that is.
In a top-15 clash, the No. 12 Ohio State men’s hockey team (14-7-6, 5-5-1-1) edged visiting Minnesota (17-8-2, 8-3-0-0), 5-4, Friday night at the Schottenstein Center. The win improves the Scarlet and Gray’s record in Columbus to 5-4-2 this season.
Junior forward Matt Weis, senior forward and captain Nick Schilkey, junior forward Kevin Miller, sophomore center Mason Jobst and freshman forward Tanner Laczynski all found the back of the net for OSU in the victory.
In his first start since since Dec. 2 at Minnesota, senior goalie Matt Tomkins performed well between the pipes, registering 35 saves on the night. Buckeyes coach Steve Rohlik said his goalie deserves a lot of credit for the victory in Game One, and added that Tomkins’ success begins with the way he practices.
“[Matt] shows up every day, works his tail off and prepares like he’s playing,” Rohlik said. “When your number is called, you’ve got to be ready to go — and he is certainly a guy that is preparing himself for that moment; and I expect that out of all our guys.”
OSU controlled the opening eight minutes of the game, and with 12:02 left, they were rewarded.
On the counter, Laczynski skated around the Golden Gophers net into great position to feed a waiting Weis on the backside, and the junior buried his eighth goal of the season to put the Scarlet and Gray up 1-0.
After notching six points last weekend in Ann Arbor, Schilkey returned to the Schottenstein Center in a big way.
Taking a pass from Jobst in the neutral zone, the captain maneuvered his way around Minnesota freshman defender Ryan Lindgren with a delicious deke, and slotted a shot into the top corner to increase the Buckeye lead to two after 20 minutes. Jobst’s 26th helper of the year extended his point streak to 13 games.
“That was an unbelievable play,” Jobst said about his teammate’s 21st goal of the year. “When you’re playing with Nick Schilkey, you try to give him the puck. He was coming through the middle with a lot of speed so I thought he could beat him wide, but I think he faked everybody out on the ice and it was a great goal.”
Even on shots heading into the second, Minnesota emerged from the intermission with the hopes of getting back into the game — and in a little over 10 minutes, the visitors clawed back to take the lead.
46 seconds into the period, sophomore forward Brent Gates Jr. cut the Scarlet and Gray lead to one with a power play goal. Just over three minutes later, freshman left wing Rem Pitlick tied the game at two with his sixth goal of the year.
The Golden Gophers took their first lead of the night with 9:45 left in the period, as senior center Vinni Lettieri continued the comeback with a goal to put Minnesota up, 3-2.
The Buckeyes, however, answered under a minute later when Miller wristed a shot past Golden Gophers sophomore goaltender Eric Schierhorn to tie the game back up. Sophomore forward Brendon Kearney and senior defender Josh Healey recorded assists on the goal.
Along with tying the game, Rohlik said the Miller goal and play from his fourth line was a turning point for the Scarlet and Gray.
“[Minnesota] is an explosive hockey team, a very good hockey team,” Rohlik said. “Next thing you know when you’re up 2-0, it’s 3-2 the other way and somebody has to go out there and get momentum back — and that (fourth) line came through for us.”
Entering the final frame of Game One, both sides searched for the answer to a win and three Big Ten points. And on their first powerplay of the third period, OSU reclaimed the lead.
With 14:13 left, Jobst netted his second point of the night and 13th goal of the season off the assists from Schilkey and senior forward David Gust to take a 4-3 advantage. 10 minutes later, Laczynski added another to put the game nearly out of reach for his eighth goal of the year.
The Golden Gophers cut the deficit to one with an empty net and less than two minutes remaining when senior forward Justin Kloos pushed the puck past Tomkins. The last-gasp effort by the visitors, however, came to no avail as OSU took Game One of this series.
With Game Two slated for Saturday night, Laczynski said that the team’s focus is set on another positive start in order to claim all six points this weekend.
“I personally think this was a great win, but it means nothing if we don’t sweep them,” he said. “So I think we’ve got to come out tomorrow and provide an even better effort, and it starts with the first period again.”
Puck drop for the series finale from the Schottenstein Center is set for 8 p.m.