After winning three of four games in a long November homestand, Ohio State (9-4-1, 4-2 Big Ten) will return to the road against the Minnesota Gophers (4-6-1, 2-2 Big Ten) to close out the first half of the season.
Though it’s a normal road game for most of the Ohio State men’s hockey team, multiple members hail from Minnesota, including head coach Steve Rohlik, senior forward John Wiitala and redshirt junior forwards Miguel Fidler and Wyatt Ege.
“I’m excited. That’s a team that I’ve looked up to my entire life,” Ege said. “Growing up, it was the Gophers. There was no [Minnesota] Wild. That was the team I wanted to play for. It’ll be fun to go back there and play, definitely, in front of some family and friends.”
The Buckeyes’ main concern will be scoring on the stout Gopher defense. Minnesota has allowed only 30 goals all season, two more than Ohio State, which ranks No. 6 in goals against, forcing the Buckeyes to improve its puck handling and turnovers that hurt its shot creation against Penn State last weekend.
Ohio State has played 14 games to Minnesota’s 11.
“They like to get their [defense] involved, so we’re going to have to be really good away from the puck and we’re going to have to manage the puck too,” sophomore forward Austin Pooley said.
Though the defense for the Gophers has excelled, the offense has struggled. Minnesota is the only team in the nation with a goal margin of zero through the first half of the season, scoring 30 goals to go along with the 30 against.
One reason behind the Gophers’ stagnant offense is that it has taken only 301 shots on the season, one of the lowest marks in the nation. Minnesota hasn’t won a single game this season where it’s scored less than three goals.
The Gophers have a top 20 penalty kill and power play unit, two aspects of the ice that have haunted Ohio State this season, which ranks No. 38 in the nation on both sides of its special teams.
The Buckeyes went nearly a month without allowing a power play goal before allowing three against Penn State and only scoring two of their own on 10 attempts versus the Nittany Lions.
“We know they’re going to be good, we know they’re going to be ready. We know they play a skill game. Obviously, there’s a few more wrinkles maybe in there, but we know they’re going to play a high-tempo skill game,” Rohlik said. “That’s what Minnesota is.”
The Gophers have split its past two series between the pipes with both junior goaltender Matt Robson and senior goaltender Eric Schierhorn seeing playing time. Schierhorn has allowed nine goals and 2.21 goals per game on the season. He’s appeared in two fewer games than Robson, who has allowed 19 goals.
Though Ohio State’s redshirt senior goaltender Sean Romeo struggled in his start against Penn State, allowing four goals in the loss and breaking his program-record, three-game shutout streak, it is still expected that he and sophomore goaltender Tommy Nappier will continue to split their starts.
Nappier holds the No. 1 save percentage in the nation at .957.
The puck will drop at 8 p.m. Friday on the road between Ohio State and Minnesota and Saturday night’s game will begin at 5 p.m.