The No. 6 Ohio State men’s hockey team will go on the road for the final time this season against No. 10 Minnesota, aiming to secure the program’s first-ever season sweep of the Gophers. Although that’s significant, it means a bit more for redshirt sophomore defenseman Wyatt Ege.
Ege hails from Elk River, Minnesota, which is just outside the twin cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul. Ege said a win against the Gophers would be huge, not just for the team, but for his family watching the game from the stands.
“It’d mean a lot. Not playing for them, playing for a different school. You play for big time Ohio State now,” Ege said. “To go home and get a couple wins in front of my family and some people I know will be awesome.”
Ohio State (19-7-4, 12-7-1-0 Big Ten) is coming off a weekend series split against top-ranked Notre Dame, with a narrow 2-1 loss on Feb. 9 and a 5-1 win Saturday. Minnesota (18-13-1, 9-10-1-1 Big Ten) returns home after sweeping Wisconsin on the road by a combined score of 11-3 in a two-game weekend series.
With a record of 11-3-1, the Buckeyes have had ample success on the road.Ohio State assistant coach JB Bittner said completing a season sweep in college hockey is always tough, regardless of the opponent.
“Even Friday and Saturday is hard, then you throw in the season series of four games, that’s really tough to do,” Bittner said. “We’ll expect that they’ll be at their best this weekend.”
The Golden Gophers have a surplus of scoring depth with five players registering at least 20 points each. Junior forward Tyler Sheehy earned the Big Ten First Star of the Week this week, racking up three goals and five points in two games against Wisconsin.
The forward depth doesn’t just stop at Sheehy. Minnesota also has one of the most electrifying players in the country in freshman forward Casey Mittelstadt.
Mittelstadt was the eighth overall pick in the 2017 NHL draft by the Buffalo Sabres. Mittelstadt also helped Ohio State associate head coach Steve Miller and the United States win a bronze medal at the 2018 U-20 World Junior Hockey Championship, during which he earned Most Valuable Player honors.
“He’s an elite player, one of the elite players in the country,” Bittner said. “We’ll just be aware when they’re on the ice with him and take away his time and space, don’t let him have freedom to kind of do what he wants.”
Traveling to 3M Arena at Mariucci will be a test for the Buckeyes, not just because Minnesota has the top home record in the Big Ten at 12-5-0, but it has a bigger ice sheet than any other venue.
Minnesota’s rink is Olympic sized (200-feet long, 100-feet wide) instead of the average ice rink size (200-feet long, 85-feet wide), giving a skilled team like the Gophers a lot of room to make plays. Although the ice size has changed since the teams first met in Columbus, Minnesota is still the same team.
“I think their tendencies would be similar, but just the way they do everything will be different. They have a lot more room,” redshirt junior goaltender Sean Romeo said. “They’re a skilled team. They love having that room on the ice. It helps them, but it’s nothing that we’re not ready for.”
Romeo earned the Big Ten Second Star of the Week Tuesday for his stellar goaltending against Notre Dame. Romeo gave up just three goals and had a .957 save percentage, along with a career-high 39-save performance in Saturday’s win. Romeo offered a simple mentality on how he will approach the game on the bigger ice sheet with a wide grin on his face.
“Just got to stop the puck,” Romeo said.
Puck drop for the weekend series is at 9 p.m. Friday on Big Ten Network, then 5 p.m. Saturday on ESPNU.