Pitlick’s hat trick leads Gophers past Ohio State

Rhett Pitlick’s first collegiate hat trick and four-point night ignited the No. 10 Minnesota men’s hockey team to a 5-2 win over Ohio State Friday night from 3M Arena at Mariucci.

The Golden Gophers (13-6-4 overall, 6-4-3 B1G) scored three first-period goals and opened the Big Ten Conference series against the Buckeyes (9-10-4 overall, 1-10-2 B1G) with their fourth-consecutive victory. Seven different players tallied a point for Minnesota, including three-assist performances from Oliver Moore and Sam Rinzel to support the career night from Pitlick and begin the second half of the league slate on a positive note.

The Maroon and Gold were flying early and Charlie Strobel created a pair of chances on the backhand in front of the net. That shift set the tone for the night and the offense continued to buzz as Minnesota fired nine of the game’s first 11 shots at the midpoint of the opening period. Immediately after Moore won the faceoff following the media timeout, Pitlick fired off a quick wrister from the left circle and buried it high over the OSU netminder’s glove for a 1-0 advantage at the 11:32 mark.

The Gophers dominated the remainder of the first frame and doubled their lead with less than five minutes to play. Mike Koster started the perfectly executed play by finding Moore near the goal line and the freshman pushed a pass across the crease where Connor Kurth was waiting. The sophomore ripped a shot over the sliding goalie, giving the home side a 2-0 cushion. Two minutes later, it was Jimmy Snuggerud that found the back of the net on the power play as he took a spinning feed from Pitlick and put away his team-leading 18th goal of the year as the Gophers staked a 3-0 margin through the first stanza.

Goaltender Justen Close needed to make critical saves to begin the second period as OSU made a push to get back into the game. Minnesota took a penalty near the middle of the frame and the Buckeyes converted the chance to pull within two, 3-1. The visitors maintained the pressure on the Gophers, but each chance was stopped, and the Maroon and Gold carried the two-goal edge into the locker room after 40 minutes of play.

It was the home side that quickly asserted control in the third period as Pitlick scored his second of the night just 3:18 into the action. Aaron Huglen stepped around two OSU defenders on his way to the net, but dropped off a slick pass to the doorstep where Pitlick’s stick was ready to jam home the chance during a man advantage. He completed his hat trick at the 6:12 mark aided by the speed of Moore, who drew in two defenders before handing the puck off to Pitlick. The Plymouth, Minn., native made no mistake with the shot that chased the OSU goalie and Minnesota took a commanding 5-1 advantage.

The Buckeyes scored their second power-play goal with 9:57 to play in regulation and pulled their netminder for the final four minutes, including an extended 6-on-4 chance following a home penalty. The Gophers finished off the win, 5-2, and Close picked up the victory in net for the Maroon and Gold, making 27 saves, including 11 in the final frame.