Minnesota-Ohio State Weekend an Experience
First Big Ten Meeting Will be Outdoors
by Nathan Wells/CHN Reporter
The strangest thing about this weekend’s series between Minnesota and Ohio State is not the short week for the Gophers, whose Sunday-Monday sweep of Penn State in Pennsylvania means the team plays in both the easternmost and westernmost Big Ten hockey cities in a five day span. It isn’t even the schedule. The Buckeyes and Gophers play Friday night at 8 p.m. CT and then Saturday at 5 p.m. CT.
No, the strangest thing is that many players on both teams are more familiar with college hockey outdoor games than playing one another.
Minnesota (15-2-3, 5-0-1-0 Big Ten), currently first in the Pairwise, and Ohio State (11-6-1, 1-2-1-0) face each other for the first time in Big Ten play this weekend. Friday’s game (9 p.m. ET on BTN) is part of the 2014 Hockey City Classic played outdoors at 50,000-seat TCF Bank Stadium. It’s the second time each school, which last faced one another in 2007, has played outdoors in recent years.
In 2012, Ohio State hosted Michigan at Progressive Field in Cleveland while the Gophers faced Wisconsin in Chicago last February as part of the inaugural Hockey City Classic.
This time around, the game is being played in Minneapolis. It’s the first time in the modern era that the hockey-made state of Minnesota has hosted an outdoor spectacle.
“It’s great that we’re doing it in our state,” said Gopher men’s hockey coach Don Lucia this week. “The first outdoor game and it’s exciting, certainly for our players. I’m sure Ohio State and our girls’ team and Mankato (playing beforehand) are excited to play in the game too.
“I think that the fans are going to have a good time Friday night and that’s really what it is. It’s as much an event as it is a game although there are 3 points riding on it in conference play.”
Saturday’s game, part of Hockey Day Minnesota, is indoors at Mariucci Arena and airs at 6 p.m. ET on Fox Sports North.
The trip outdoors is a return of sorts for many of the players growing up and playing pond hockey. Junior Seth Ambroz equates it to the olden days in New Prague, Minn., while freshman forward Hudson Fasching brought up memories of parents bringing McDonald’s to the neighborhood rink.
At the same time, this weekend’s series is also business in addition to pleasure. Whether or not having a conference game outdoors count for points in a 20-game conference can be debated, but it does. Ice conditions, however favorable, play a role. Both Minnesota and Ohio State may be facing below-zero wind chills with temperatures Friday projected to be in the single digits.
Although the temperatures mean the ice will be in better shape than last year, a plus for sophomore goaltender Adam Wilcox, who battled pucks in Chicago that deflected and bounced off the ice itself, the Buckeyes have enough firepower to deal with. The Gophers and Ohio State are second and third in total offense, respectively.
While Minnesota has utilized its depth this season – all three goals in Sunday’s 3-2 win were scored by defensemen and no player has reached double-digits – the Buckeyes have been a little bit more top heavy. Five upperclassmen on first-year head coach Steve Rohlik’s team lead OSU in points.
No one is more dangerous than Ryan Dzingel. The junior forward, who notched a hat trick Friday against Michigan State, is second in the Big Ten with 13 goals. He has scored multiple points in four of his last five games and recorded a goal in 9 of 11.
Still, Lucia is confident in his young team adjusting against the Buckeyes.
“Until you actually see them on the ice – I’ve seen Ohio State play last year at Ohio State when I was watching Notre Dame when we had an off weekend – I was impressed by their team and I am not surprised they are off to the start they are right now,” said Lucia. “When you play teams that you haven’t seen and you can watch a team on video, but until you are on ice level and get a better nuance of how individuals will play, that’s when you have a better feel about what the opposing team is all about.”
One reason is the depth. Every game seems like someone else steps up. On Monday, it included two players who have been struggling to light the lamp lately in Sam Warning and Nate Condon. The two players hadn’t scored since October.
“It was critical for me on Monday that Sam Warning and Nate Condon scored,” Lucia said about the pair, who combined for three of the four goals against Nittany Lions goalie Eamon McAdam. “It had been a long time for either of them and when they’re both in the top-six position we need them scoring. Not necessarily every game, but they need to get on the board pretty much every weekend.
“Our success this year wasn’t going to be through one or two guys. It was going to be by committee.”
With the exception of senior defenseman Jake Parenteau (out with a broken leg suffered in December, although he is skating), the Gophers are healthy. That’s keeping pace with the Buckeyes, whose win and tie to Michigan State (the Spartans won the ensuing shootout) saw freshman goaltender Matt Tomkins, one of four OSU players to be in net this year, return after an injury cost him nearly two months.
Whether it is out in the elements or indoors, this weekend’s series between Ohio State and the Gophers should be exciting. There is, however, one lesson that Lucia and his team took from last year’s 3-2 loss in Chicago.
“If you don’t win, it’s no fun.”