For those who look for the dark clouds amid all of the silver linings of what is clearly a special season for the Minnesota Gophers, the team’s power play was sitting at 0-for-5 on the weekend after 80 minutes of hockey, at the end of the first period Saturday at Ohio State.
But like a jackhammer that chips away and chips away, unrelentingly, at solid rock until it cracks, the Gophers special teams just kept grinding. And when the Buckeyes found a heap of penalty trouble early in the second period, that solid rock of Ohio State defense cracked.
The Gophers got a pair of power play goals and their second short-handed goal of the weekend in the middle frame on Saturday, pulling away for a 5-2 win and a sweep of their Big Ten road series in Columbus, Ohio.
Defenseman Jackson LaCombe, who has rarely met a loose puck he will not rush, had a goal and two assists as the Gophers improved to 15-3-0 overall. They have now won four in a row, scoring 30 goals in the process.
“I thought it was an outstanding weekend for us. We come on the trip with 24 guys and everybody was a part of it. We just played very solid all weekend,” Gophers coach Bob Motzko said. “Special teams were a critical part of tonight’s game. We really limited their opportunities so it was a good, solid, complete weekend, how we played.”
Leading 1-0 after the first, the Gophers got an extended man advantage as two Buckeyes were whistled for infractions on the same shift. Ohio State forward Collin Peters was called for checking from behind and ejected for a dangerous hit on defenseman Mike Koster. The Gophers promptly scored a 5-on-3 goal and a 5-on-4 goal to open up a 3-0 lead.
“You get an opportunity like that on the road, 5-on-3 in a second period when Ohio State was playing very hard tonight,” Motzko said. “We get two power play goals off that, and again our penalty kill was outstanding, so special teams tonight won the game.”
Leading 3-1 late in the second, LaCombe got his second short-handed goal of the weekend to effectively put the game out of reach. LaCombe was originally a forward, but switched to defense while playing prep hockey at Shattuck-St. Mary’s, and his offensive tendencies are always on display. Early in his college career, LaCombe had a propensity for turnovers, but has tightened up that part of his game while still adding offense.
“I think it’s just my regular game. I think as we’ve played more as a team and gotten more comfortable with each other it’s been helping all the (defense) jump in the play and kind of get involved there,” said LaCombe. “We’re playing well as a team together and that’s kind of helping out.”
Still, the Buckeyes (5-12-1) refused to go quietly, out-shooting the Gophers 13-2 in the period, making goalie Jack Lafontaine work for his 13th win of the season with 28 saves. Forward Jaxon Nelson had a goal and an assist for the Gophers, who are leading college hockey offensively.
The Buckeyes were without regular goalie Tommy Nappier, who suffered an upper body injury in Friday’s 5-1 loss to the Gophers. In his place, senior Evan Moyse got his first collegiate start and had 22 saves.
“I think he was fantastic. He looked comfortable, he looked calm, he played pucks,” said Buckeyes coach Steve Rohlik, who credited his team for not quitting despite trailing in the third period. “And again, I think our team defense was dialed in a lot better as well.”
After the Gophers killed a late Ohio State power play, captain Sammy Walker scored an empty net goal for the exclamation point on the sweep. Koster played the rest of the game despite the big hit. Motzko rested defenseman Matt Staudacher on Saturday. The sophomore had played in the series opener after missing the previous four games due to injury. Carl Fish was in the lineup on defense in Staudacher’s place.
The Gophers are at home next weekend to face arch-rival Wisconsin. The Badgers are five points back of Minnesota in the race for the Big Ten title.
“It’s going to feel really good,” said Nelson of the impending plane ride home after the wins in Ohio. “A sweep on the road is always good and we get back to work on Monday for Wisconsin next weekend.”
View Jess Myers' postgame comments here.
Ohio State 0-1-1—2
First period — 1. MIN, Jonny Sorenson 5 (Jaxon Nelson), 7:44. 2. MIN, Sampo Ranta 11 (Ben Meyers), 11:29. Penalties — Ryan Dicksinson, OSU (interference), 2:00; Cullen Munson, MIN (hooking), 9:29; Brock Faber, MIN (closing hand on the puck), 13:58; Quinn Preston, OSU (tripping), 16:06.
Second period — 2. MIN, Sampo Ranta 12 (Sammy Walker, Jackson LaCombe), 1:59, (pp). 3. MIN, Nelson 4 (Meyers, LaCombe), 2:35, (pp). 4. OSU, Tate Singleton 5 (Travis Treloar), 7:11. 5. MIN, LaCombe 3 (Blake McLaughlin, Ryan Johnson), 18:59, (sh). Penalties — Collin Peters, OSU (5-checking from behind & game misconduct), 1:18. Ryan O’Connell, OSU (tripping), 1:18; Meyers, MIN (hooking), 17:10.
Third period — 6. OSU, Kamil Sadlocha 2 (Singleton, Grant Gabriele), 14:54. 7. MIN, Sammy Walker 9 (unassisted), 19:40, (en). Penalties — Bench (served by Mark Cheremeta), OSU (too many men on the ice), 7:28; Meyers, MIN (cross checking), 17:27.
Shots on goal — OSU 11-6-13—30; MIN 12-13-2—27. Goalies — Evan Moyse, OSU (27-22); Jack LaFontaine, MIN (30-28). Power plays — OSU 0-of-4, MIN 2-of-6. Referees — Jonathon Sitarski, Brett Sheva. Linesmen — Brett Huff, Pat Richardson,. Att. — NA.