MINNEAPOLIS — In a game Ohio State could — and perhaps should — have won Friday, Minnesota netminder Alex Kangas had other ideas. Kangas, a freshman making his first collegiate appearance, stopped 32 shots and Minnesota held on to edge OSU 2-1 at Mariucci Arena.
The win gave the Gophers (4-2-0) a series sweep, but only by the skin of their teeth. Kangas was the difference in a third period utterly dominated by Ohio State (2-4-0), which outshot Minnesota 22-3 in the game’s final 20 minutes but couldn’t get the tying goal thanks to Kangas’ acrobatics.
“What we discussed was, instead of making plays to get to the net, get the puck to the net and then make plays off the rebounds,” said Ohio State head coach John Markell of the Buckeyes’ strategy, which worked to perfection in every area but the scoreboard.
“If it wasn’t for Alex, Ohio State would have won the game,” said Minnesota head coach Don Lucia. “He made a couple of big saves, spectacular-looking saves in the third, but for the most part, he swallowed up pucks, and didn’t give up rebounds.
“If you’re passing out three stars, he was first, second and third.”
Down 2-0 after two solid, workmanlike periods by Minnesota, the Buckeyes suddenly took charge, outskating, outhitting and outpossessing the Gophers and shooting almost at will.
Minnesota’s Blake Wheeler briefly stemmed the tide by tucking a loose puck under Kangas’ back after a slapshot trickled partially through, but OSU broke through at 8:23. Taking a pass from Tommy Goebel, senior blueliner Kyle Hood unleashed a slapshot that hit the stick of Gopher Mike Hoeffel and redirected just inside the left post to narrow the Minnesota lead to 2-1.
The Buckeyes redoubled their efforts at that point, drawing a slash by Mike Howe at 14:45 for their third power play of the game. Peter Boyd made a bid to tie it with a stuff attempt, but Kangas put his stick on the ice to deflect the would-be goal and Minnesota killed off the remainder of the penalty.
Then came the saves of the game for Minnesota. Kangas sprawled all over the crease to stop point-blank shots from Chris Reed and Mathieu Picard — two for Picard, in fact — and the defense cleared two more loose pucks to preserve the one-goal advantage.
“Moments like that, I just kind of keep my cool, try to make the first save and let the rest of the guys do their jobs,” said an understated Kangas.
With OSU netminder Joseph Palmer (18 saves) finally off for the sixth skater, an icing call against Minnesota gave Ohio State possession in the offensive zone with 20 seconds left in regulation, but Kangas made one last big stop, this time on Sergio Somma.
“It kind of got my heart racing a little bit — maybe a little bit too much,” said Kangas of the hyperactive third period, “but that’s what goalies thrive on.”
Early on, the story was Palmer, who kept the Buckeyes in the game with key saves of his own. He made his first big stop four minutes in, sliding to his left to stone Ryan Flynn with a half-open net.
Kangas returned the favor by blocking Boyd’s stuff attempt at his feet later in the period, but Palmer upped the ante with a nifty glove save on Ben Gordon’s power-play wrister from the right faceoff dot.
The Gophers, though, refused to let Palmer and the Buckeyes get out of the first period unscathed. With time winding down, Howe found Justin Bostrom in the high slot, and Bostrom unleashed a shot through traffic that beat Palmer high to his right for a 1-0 lead at 19:25.
OSU dodged a bullet early in the second when Kyle Okposo couldn’t find the handle on an opportunity from the doorstep with a wide-open net, but Jay Barriball doubled the Gopher lead at 6:19 with his first goal of the campaign.
Skating on a newly-shuffled line with Tony Lucia and Patrick White, the sophomore winger intercepted a pass just inside the far blueline and broke the length of the ice before going five-hole to make it 2-0.
“What we were trying to do was get Kyle going, get Jay going,” said Lucia of the substantial line changes. “For Jay, it was nice for him to get that first goal of the season. And I thought Kyle had good chances, but just couldn’t finish them.”
“It was a big relief,” said Barriball of his goal. “I’ve been looking for it for a couple of games. … I think I was gripping the stick a little tight the last couple of games, but I just have to be patient and play my game.”
As on Thursday, Markell couldn’t help but be pleased with his team’s effort despite the outcome.
“We play like that the rest of the year, I’ll be very, very happy,” he said. “We did a pretty good job here for four and a half periods in a very difficult building.”
Next weekend, both teams return to conference play, with Ohio State hosting Ferris State in the CCHA and Minnesota receiving a visit from WCHA rival Denver. Both series are Friday-Sunday.