COLUMBUS, Ohio — After Friday’s relatively easy 7-2 win over Ohio State, Minnesota head coach Don Lucia was concerned about how his rookie-laden squad would respond to a rematch.
Even though the Buckeyes played a more competitive game Saturday, the Golden Gophers still skated smoothly to a 6-3 victory, capitalizing on four power-play goals for the second consecutive night in a weekend road sweep of Ohio State.
“I thought tonight it was our older guys that really dictated the game,” said Lucia. “I thought Tyler Hirsch was really good tonight and Mike Vannelli was really good tonight, so a couple of our seniors really stepped up for us tonight.
“I said going in that I hoped our older guys could have good games tonight, and I thought they did.”
Hirsch and Vannelli, both seniors, had career-high games for points, Hirsch with a goal and two assists and Vannelli with four helpers. Juniors Ryan Stoa and Alex Goligoski, and freshman Kyle Okposo each garnered their second goals of the weekend. Ben Gordon’s second goal of the year and Mike Howe’s first, an empty-netter, rounded out the Minnesota scoring.
“In a small rink, Ohio State’s a big, strong team and for us the challenge was the second night, with a lot of 18-year-old kids, 19-year-old kids out there,” said Lucia. “You knew that this was the first time that they got to experience it this year, the back-to-back games in a small rink against a physical opponent.
“The good thing was that we were able to make them pay when they took their penalties. When you can make a team pay with their power play, sometimes it forces them to back off.”
Although their physical play and seeming lack of penalty-kill prowess cost the Buckeyes four goals, Ohio State wasn’t anywhere in this game until Zach Pelletier, a fourth-line winger, made a monster hit on Gopher Derek Peltier in the second period, sending Peltier to the bench for the rest of the game.
“I thought our guys responded well,” said OSU head coach John Markell. “Really, I found in the second period, if it wasn’t for the power plays, I thought we got the better of the five-on-five. It started with Zach Pelletier having a big hit. I need more guys like that — not hitting like that, just showing that kind of desire and character. He looked like he was having fun out there.”
Minnesota was ahead 2-0 by little more than midway through the first on Hirsch’s and Stoa’s goals. Hirsch picked up Okposo’s rebound from the backboards and poked it between OSU netminder Joseph Palmer’s right skate and the post at 4:24 for his first goal of the season, and Stoa tipped in Hirsch’s shot from high in the slot on the power play at 11:02 for his second of the series.
The Golden Gophers made it 3-0 just 31 seconds into the second period on their second power-play goal of the night, when Okposo capitalized on Hirsch’s rebound from high on the glass behind the cage.
The teams exchanged goals for the rest of the stanza, with an energized Buckeye squad giving Minnesota a game and outshooting the Gophers 10-9 in the period.
In fact, the prettiest goal of the night might have been Buckeye Dave Barton’s first tally of the season, an even-strength goal at 5:15 in the second to make it a 3-1 game. Matt McIlvane flew in on the left wing and shot on Gopher goaltender Jeff Frazee as he passed the goal; Frazee made the shot but gave up the rebound to Barton, who was crashing into the crease.
Frazee again stopped the puck, but Barton picked up and lifted his own rebound into the net while being checked from behind to draw the Buckeyes to within two.
The exchange continued with Goligoski’s power-play goal at 9:15, Buckeye John Dingle’s first of the season at 12:36, and Gordon’s goal, again with the Gopher man-advantage, at 17:48.
McIlvane drew the Bucks within two again late in the third, but OSU’s redoubled effort was never enough. Howe capped the game at 19:19, hitting the empty net from near the blue line.
“We made mistakes by taking some penalties, and they made us pay again tonight,” said Markell. “I thought the kids had a better game. We certainly did learn something about ourselves. Minnesota puts a severe test on you. That’s the best Minnesota team I’ve seen or coached against.”
The Gophers finished the night 4-for-9 on the power play, while the Buckeyes went 1-for-6. In spite of the number of Minnesota power-play chances and the hit on Peltier, Lucia said the game was under control.
“There wasn’t that much extracurricular. There was some pushing and shoving, but it was all pretty harmless I thought tonight, actually all weekend. Ohio State, I don’t think they played dirty or anything like that. I thought they played physical, and that’s what you expect, especially when you go into their building.”
As for Peltier, said Lucia, “He got his bell rung a little bit, but he should be fine. I’d be surprised if he doesn’t skate on Monday.”
Frazee made 25 saves on 28 shots; Palmer stopped 29 of 25.
Minnesota (4-1-0) returns home next weekend to open WCHA play against Colorado College Oct. 27-28, while Ohio State (1-3-0, 1-1-0 CCHA) heads to Marquette, to take on conference rival Northern Michigan.