All season long the Ohio State men’s hockey team has looked to junior forward Ryan Dzingel to take the lead in key moments.
He never did it in a more important spot than Friday night.
With his team in a tied with No. 1 Minnesota late in third period, the Buckeyes’ leading scorer came up with the goal that pushed the Buckeyes within one win of an NCAA tournament berth.
The Buckeyes (18-13-5, 7-9-5) upset the Gophers (25-6-6, 14-4-3), 3-1, in the Big Ten semifinals, advancing them to the Big Ten Championship where they are set to face No. 6 Wisconsin (23-10-2, 13-6-1) Saturday.
“We bent, but we didn’t break. We got to expect to win. That’s what we told our team. You got to expect to win every game you play no matter who you play,” OSU coach Steve Rohlik said after the game, according to a press release. “We just beat the best team in the country tonight. It’s a good feeling, but we’re not done yet.”
Cheered on by the partisan crowd in their own state, the Gophers made inroads early in the game when senior defenseman Justin Holl’s snapshot tested OSU freshman goalie Christian Frey. Frey had to make an even bigger save on freshman forward Hudson Fasching’s shot a few minutes later.
Sophomore forward Anthony Greco was the first Buckeye to test the Big Ten Player and Goaltender of the Year Adam Wilcox in the Minnesota net.
Minnesota had the first power play opportunity with 8:33 remaining in the first period, and junior forward Sam Warning nearly capitalized when his shot hit the post before Frey stopped a long attempt from freshman forward Taylor Cammarata.
But when the Buckeyes received their first man advantage, they made it count.
Junior forward Max McCormick had the puck on the near wall and before finding his teammate Tanner Fritz on the opposite side. Fritz immediately saw Nick Schilkey streaking to the front of the net and delivered the perfect pass for the freshman to tip past Wilcox for a 1-0 lead.
The Buckeyes found themselves on another power play as the first period wound down, and nearly doubled their advantage. An awkward bounce off the end boards saw the puck trickle across the Minnesota goalmouth, but when McCormick pushed it over the line the horn had already sounded to signal the end of the period.
Early in the second, Frey stopped Fasching’s turnaround shot attempt as OSU completed another penalty kill, but it couldn’t do the same during Minnesota’s next man advantage.
Minnesota junior forward Travis Boyd entered the zone and found Cammarata, who saw a gap in the OSU defense. His threaded pass went straight into the path of junior forward Kyle Rau, who followed in to score his 12th goal of the season.
Wilcox and Frey both made key saves throughout the remainder of the period and the teams entered the final period tied at one.
Then the Hobey Baker Award finalist made his mark.
Dzingel’s long slap shot was tipped right before it reached Wilcox, and slipping past him and into the Minnesota net. The goal was Dzingel’s first point of the tournament.
“I think I called off Schilkey. I went to take a shot. The guy came out. Obviously it was a great pass by (sophomore forward) Tyler (Lundey). I think I just closed my eyes, tried to shoot as hard as I could. Didn’t come off as hard as I wanted it to , but it went in,” Dzingel said after the game.
Minnesota came back strongly, and the Buckeyes had to withstand seven shots from the Gophers in one shift. Just after that sequence ended it looked like Minnesota had tied the game, but a goal was disallowed after a review showed junior forward Seth Ambroz used his hand to put the puck in the net.
Frey continued to stand tall in the game’s final minutes, and just after Minnesota pulled Wilcox, Greco stole the puck and settled it down before slotting it into the empty net, sealing the upset win
The victory is only the second time in the program’s history that OSU has beaten Minnesota.
Schilkey said the necessity of winning to keep hopes of the NCAA Tournament alive helped the team against the Gophers.
“We did talk about playing desperate,” Schilkey said. “We know that we just got to play our game. That’s really the bottom line. As desperate as we need to play, we got to stick to our fundamentals and our systems, we should be fine.”
The Buckeyes’ chance at an automatic NCAA Tournament berth lies in the Big Ten Tournament Championship Game, and they have their chance to accomplish their goal Saturday against Wisconsin. Start time is slated for 8 p.m.
“I just told our guys, you know, you got the two games behind you. I said that tomorrow you’re going to feel great,” Rohlik said. “Yeah, it’s three games in three nights, but you also have another great opportunity to play another great team in Wisconsin. You’re playing for a chance to get a Championship and play in the NCAA Tournament. I think our guys are pretty excited about that chance. Like I told them before, this can happen.”