Gophers cap off sweep of Ohio State in regular season finale
Thanks to five unanswered goals, the No. 1 Golden Gophers men’s hockey team closed the regular season with a 5-2, come-from-behind win against No. 8/7 Ohio State Saturday inside 3M Arena at Mariucci.
Facing a rare two-goal deficit in the second period, Minnesota (25-8-1 overall, 19-4-1 B1G) responded by scoring twice in a matter of 13 seconds before adding three more to complete the sweep over the Buckeyes (18-13-3 overall, 11-11-2 B1G). Aaron Huglen and Matthew Knies provided the offensive spark for the Maroon and Gold that ignited the crowd and helped fuel the comeback as it ended the season as the only team in Big Ten Conference history to win the league by double figures.
Both teams were moving quickly from the opening faceoff as end-to-end rushes highlighted the start. Things took a turn on the ice as tempers flared and the rest of the period was marred by penalties, including simultaneous five-minute majors to the Gophers, giving OSU three full minutes of a 5-on-3 power play. The home side nearly escaped the frame unscathed, but the Buckeyes beat the intermission buzzer scoring with 3.4 seconds remaining for their only lead of the weekend.
The visitors made it 2-0 scoring with one second left on the major, two-man advantage 1:06 into the second stanza. Minnesota was not fazed by the deficit, staying true to its gameplan and broke through at the 8:13 mark of the frame. Rhett Pitlick started the play stealing the puck from a Buckeyes defender behind the goal and slid a pass to the tape of Huglen. The sophomore was finally rewarded for his remarkable play of late and buried an open shot from the slot, closing the margin to 2-1. The very next shift, Jimmy Snuggerud fired a low shot off the goalie’s pads and Knies was right on the doorstep for the rebound, bringing the volume to a deafening level from the sellout crowd as the Gophers pulled even with two goals separated by only 13 seconds.
The top-line magic continued in the final minute of the second as Snuggerud forced another turnover behind the Buckeyes net and Knies went between-the-legs for a drop pass that allowed Cooley to lift the go-ahead tally over the baffled netminder. It gave Minnesota a 3-2 lead heading into intermission as it outscored OSU by a combined 11-4 mark during second periods during the four-game season series.
As it did with a lead the previous night, the Gophers shut the door on the visitors in the final frame and Bryce Brodzinski added an insurance tally with six minutes remaining. The Blaine, Minn., product stole the puck at center ice and buried a backhand over the blocker. Fellow senior Ryan Johnson put the finishing touches on the 5-2 Senior Night victory, scoring on an empty net from deep inside his own defensive zone.
Close was sterling in goal as he’s done all season and made 28 saves for his 22nd win of the year.
Minnesota honored its seven senior skaters (Justen Close, Jackson LaCombe, Colin Schmidt, Bryce Brodzinski, Ryan Johnson, Jaxon Nelson, Matt Staudacher) and two student managers (Brad Amundson, Chris Kiefer) in a ceremony following the game.