The Ohio State men’s hockey team faces a daunting test this weekend playing at top-ranked Minnesota, including an outdoor game Friday, but the Buckeyes need to look no further than the women’s team for inspiration.
Last Saturday the women (8-12-2, 3-11-2 WCHA) tied Minnesota, 2-2, before winning a nine-round shootout in Minneapolis to mark only the second time in 71 games that the Gophers (20-1-1, 14-1-1) did not win.
“Twitter was blowing up pretty good over it,” OSU junior forward Ryan Dzingel said. “Yeah, we can use that as a little bit of motivation.”
The men's Buckeyes (11-6-1, 1-2-1-0 Big Ten) could use some of that and a lot of focus to avoid getting caught up in the hype surrounding the Hockey City Classic on Friday that will be in TCF Bank Stadium, the home of the Gophers’ football team.
A crowd between 45,000 and the capacity of just above 50,000 is expected. The teams will move inside Saturday to play in Mariucci Arena.
“Yes, we’re going to go up there and enjoy the moment and understand that a lot of us might not be in another outdoor game with 50,000 people, but we want to put things in perspective,” Ohio State coach Steve Rohlik said. “It is a Big Ten game. We are playing not only the No. 1 team in our league but in the No. 1 team in the country. We know we’ve got to have our ‘A’ game no matter if we’re playing outside or inside.”
The Buckeyes are coming off a series in which they took four of six points at home against Michigan State (a win and shootout loss) and heading into what could be a goalie’s nightmare for both teams.
Minnesota is second nationally with 3.95 goals per game and have scored four or more goals in 11 of its 20 games. The Buckeyes are third at 3.83 and had a streak of 11 games with at least three goals snapped last Saturday in the 1-1 game against the Spartans.
“I don’t think we want to go into it thinking, ‘First one to six (goals) wins,’ ” Rohlik said. “Our team isn’t focused on that. Our team will take a 2-1 win. We don’t want to get into a run-and-gun game.”
Junior forward Matt Johnson said the key is to find a way to slow down the Gophers.
“They’re a very fast, very skilled team,” he said. “They really know how to play the game. They play their systems. One thing we’re going to have to do is play the body.”
It might be easier to accomplish in the opener because the stadium game will be on a standard NHL-sized rink at 200 feet long by 85 feet wide. Mariucci Arena has more space to skate at 200 by 100.
“It will be different. Outdoor in the smaller rink things will happen quicker,” Rohlik said. “Guys are going to be on top of one another. When you go to an Olympic-sized sheet you’ve really got to focus on your (faceoff) dots, defensively stay within your dots. So you have to have better angles.”
As Johnson put it, “(Friday) is going to be a battle game, then the next night it’s going to be a skating game.”
Different rink dimensions aren’t the only challenges facing the teams: The Weather Channel forecast for Minneapolis is for 4 degrees at the 9 p.m. (ET, BTN) start with snow showers possible by the conclusion.
Fortunately, many of the Buckeyes played outside in the Frozen Diamond Faceoff in Cleveland two years ago and have an idea of what to expect a second time.
“We have a lot of veteran guys who have done this, been there before, and they’re going to help the younger guys a lot,” Dzingel said. “It’s going to be a cool experience.”
No pun intended. The cold might not be the only factor.
“Now that I’ve done it once I know what to take in and remember,” Johnson said. “One thing I remember (from Cleveland) is in the first and third periods we were skating upwind. I don’t know if that’s going to play a role or not.”
Johnson is one of five players plus Rohlik and associate head coach Brett Larson who call Minnesota home.
“It’s definitely a big thing for me,” he said. “I grew up watching (the Gophers). I lived 20 minutes from there.
“I’m very excited. I’ve got a lot of family there. You always want to go back home and impress people there. But then again it’s not just going home; it’s a Big Ten game. It’s just another conference game we need.”
While the teams are meeting for the first time ever in conference play, Minnesota leads the series 12-1, although only two games have been in Columbus. The Gophers have won the last five meetings but the schools haven’t played since 2007. OSU’s lone win was 6-5 on Dec. 28, 1999, in the Mariucci Classic.
Speaking of history, Friday the Buckeyes will wear special scarlet jerseys like those sported by OSU teams from the early 1960s in honor this season of 50 years as a varsity sport for the program.
“They’re sweet. I love them,” Johnson said. “They did a great job picking them. We’re honored to wear them. It’s a big thing.”
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