Riding a two-game winning streak, the Ohio State women’s hockey team faces No. 5 Minnesota this weekend in a pivotal Western Collegiate Hockey Association game for the Buckeyes.

The Buckeyes swept Minnesota State last weekend, winning both games, 3-2, with the team’s top two scorers back in action. Junior forwards Laura McIntosh and Natalie Spooner had just returned from winning a gold medal for Canada’s National Women’s Under-22 Team in Switzerland. The two powerhouse players had missed the 6-2 and 5-3 losses against top-ranked Wisconsin the weekend before. Also returning was Freshman defenseman Annie Svedin, who played for the Swedish national team and earned silver.

“They are three highly skilled players,” OSU coach Jackie Barto said. “We missed both their defensive and offensive play, and we missed them on special teams.”

The return of McIntosh and Spooner has helped spark the Buckeyes’ offense, as the two have incorporated what they learned while on team Canada and provided leadership at OSU. The two forwards had an impact on the Buckeyes their first game back, both scoring clutch comeback goals with less than five minutes to play in their Jan. 14 win against Minnesota State.

“I think playing on team Canada, you’re playing with the best players in Canada. And when you’re there, you get better as a player and you bring that back to your team,” Spooner said. “You’re gonna make your teammates better when you get to practice with them.”

The Buckeyes enter the weekend series ranked sixth in the WCHA at 12-10-2. Minnesota is 16-6-1, second in the conference standings.

“We have to be more consistent and keep working hard, and it’s going to pay off,” McIntosh said. “Do the little things and play as a team, and I don’t think anyone will be able to stop us.”

Minnesota has won six of its last seven games, and it swept the Buckeyes earlier this season. OSU sits 13 points behind Minnesota in the standings. But a couple of big wins against Minnesota — at 7 p.m. Friday and 4 p.m. Saturday in Columbus — could propel the Buckeyes right back into the competitive picture.

“We have to know the big picture, but we also have to take care of each piece of it,” Barto said. “That’s our focus, one week at a time.”

Other Buckeyes were forced to step up in the absence of three of their team’s top players. Barto said that helped to better prepare the team for a strong finish to the season.

“They bring their experiences back with us and they pick up the tempo at practice,” Barto said. “While they’re gone, the kids that were here had to step up. The kids that were here and stepped up now have that confidence.”