MINNEAPOLIS — A dominant start for Minnesota was good enough in a rare Thursday game at Mariucci Arena, as the Gophers overcame 30 saves by Joseph Palmer and outlasted Ohio State 3-1 in the teams’ series opener.
Ben Gordon, Justin Bostrom and Mike Howe scored for Minnesota (3-2-0), which built a three-goal lead early in the second period and cruised to the win despite a stronger attack by the Buckeyes as the game went on. Ohio State (2-3-0) outshot the hosts 11-5 in the third period after taking over 17 minutes to get its first shot on goal of the contest.
Both teams pointed to the Buckeyes’ need to acclimate to Mariucci’s Olympic ice sheet as a factor in the early going.
“Any team that plays primarily in a smaller rink is going to have a little bit of an adjustment period coming in here, just as we do when we go play on smaller rinks,” said Gordon. “I think tomorrow they’ll have their legs underneath them a little bit better, and it’ll be a tighter start.”
“You have to find your legs,” said OSU head coach John Markell, who said he was happy with his team’s overall performance. “You have to get a grasp for the speed of the game on the big ice.
“I’d like to learn my lessons with a tie or a win,” he added, “but I want us to learn to compete, and I feel a lot better about what we did here than last weekend,” when Ohio State was swept by CCHA rival Miami.
Gordon opened the scoring on the Gophers’ second shot on net. Blake Wheeler was the playmaker on Gordon’s first goal of the season; he hit the senior left wing with a centering pass from behind the net that found Gordon in the slot for the one-time putaway at 2:51 of the first period.
“It was good to get one early in the game for our team, and it was good to get one in general for myself, to get going a little bit,” said Gordon.
“Blake’s playing very well right now, and he’s elevated his game. It was nice to see Ben Gordon [score] — I thought Ben had his best game of the year so far,” said Minnesota head coach Don Lucia. “I like the way that line’s playing. Now we just have to get a few other lines going like that.”
Twelve minutes in, Wheeler and Gordon nearly made it a two-fer, but Wheeler’s short pass had too little room for error, and Gordon couldn’t gain possession on the doorstep to Palmer’s left amid traffic.
Still, at 14:05 Bostrom made it 2-0 with a nifty play and a fortunate bounce. Digging the puck out of the far corner, Bostrom drove around the net and wrapped a shot-pass toward linemate Tony Lucia, but the puck hit an OSU skate, bounced off Palmer’s back leg and slid home for Bostrom’s first goal of the season, unassisted.
It could have been worse for the Buckeyes. Captain Matt McIlvane saved a third Minnesota goal by kicking a skidding puck out of the crease with Palmer down, and Palmer himself stopped a couple of prime scoring opportunities late in the frame.
After a 16-2 shot advantage for Minnesota in period one, the margin was just 12-9 in a vastly more competitive second stanza, which started inauspiciously for the Buckeyes
Ohio State gave up the game’s first penalty when Johann Kroll tripped Jay Barriball, and just as the power play expired, Howe extended the lead to 3-0. His shot from the left circle sneaked between Palmer’s leg and the left post at 3:46 for what was officially recorded as an even-strength goal.
OSU got one back late in the middle frame, a hard-angle shot from the left circle by Peter Boyd that beat Minnesota netminder Jeff Frazee wide to narrow the lead to 3-1 at 15:54.
Both teams then held their ground through the end of the period, thanks in part to a sterling glove save by Palmer on Wheeler’s point-blank shot off a partial breakaway.
Buckeye fans did suffer a moment of consternation when C.J. Severyn went down after what appeared to be a knee-to-knee collision midice with Minnesota’s Cade Fairchild, but Severyn left under his own power.
The hit of the game came from Minnesota’s Evan Kaufmann, who submarined OSU’s Corey Elkins into a head-over-heels flip that ended with Elkins on his back on the ice. Both players were unhurt.
The third period was uneventful on the scoresheet, if not necessarily on the ice. Ohio State took charge of the play for extended chunks of time, but nothing further got through Frazee (21 saves).
“I really liked the way we played the second and third periods,” said Markell. “It’s irrelevant how we played in the first period, though obviously it cost us. That’s what happens when you’re playing open-mouthed hockey. We were standing around, and you can’t do that.”
The Gophers and Buckeyes meet for the series finale Friday at 7:07 Central time.