In a battle of top-15 teams, the No. 12 Ohio State men’s hockey team (13-7-6, 4-5-1-1) hosts No. 5 Minnesota for two home conference clashes this weekend.
The Golden Gophers (17-7-2, 8-2-0-0) enter the series as the nation’s fourth-ranked offense with almost four goals per game, and rank seventh in power play offense. OSU and Minnesota split two games back on Dec. 3 and 4 — a 5-3 OSU loss on Friday night and an 8-3 win the next day.
Since then, however, coach Don Lucia’s squad has won 10 of its last 12 games, and are on a three-game win streak that included a sweep of No. 10 Penn State last weekend.
Between the two units, either side is ranked as one of the nation’s top-five offenses.
Scarlet and Gray associate head coach Mark Strobel said the Gophers are a different team than 10 weeks ago that presents a lethal offense year in and year out. Moreover, Strobel said the Buckeyes have the capability to sweep this weekend’s game, but the wins will go to the team that executes and competes for all three periods.
“It’s going to be a skating game, and for us, we have to take away time and space, and frustrate them with playing the body,” Strobel said. “For us, it’s a want, and it’s the ability to compete for 60 minutes and not just 20.”
On the other side, OSU has had a difficult time keeping its opponent off the scoreboard in the first period of games as of late. The Buckeyes fell behind 2-0 and 1-0 in the first period of games against Wisconsin on Jan. 26 and 28, as well as 2-0 and 3-2 deficits in the first 20 minutes of both games at Michigan last weekend.
In light of the slow starts, sophomore forward Mason Jobst said making sure the team does not come out flat has been a big emphasis this week in order to not give opponents the opportunity to take advantage of the game early on. Making adjustments mid-game will be key to success in this series.
“We’ve got to change it,” Jobst said. “We can’t afford to keep digging (ourselves into) big holes. We can’t get out of them.”
With just 10 games left, the Scarlet and Gray sit in fourth place in the Big Ten standings with 14 points — 10 behind the Golden Gophers, who are in a tie at the top with No. 17 Wisconsin.
As the final stretch of the season begins with six conference points on the line this weekend, Strobel said the team’s focus needs to be set on playing “Buckeye hockey” by getting pucks deep, pressuring the defense and dictating the pace of play — starting with the first game Friday night.
“Every weekend is a big series … we have to win hockey games,” Strobel said. “We can’t let points go south anymore. We have to stop the bleeding, if you will, and for us, it’s going to be Friday night, come eight o’clock, that we have to take our game to Minnesota.”
Puck drop is slated for 8 p.m. at the Schottenstein Center both Friday and Saturday night.