University of Minnesota senior co-captain Nate Condon has been blossoming since junior Sam Warning was moved to his line prior to playing RPI two weeks ago. Warning and Condon, a Colorado Avalanche draft pick, both were struggling offensively, with neither scoring since October.
The pairing of the two, along with freshman Justin Kloos, has paid off over the last week.
"Sam’s a really fast player, a really creative player," Condon said after Friday’s 1-0 win over Ohio State. "I think that he brings or creates everything that you want in a player. He’s been great for us because if I get open, I know that he’s going to find and get me the puck."
It also works the other way around.
Condon set up Warning twice and the junior forward became the first Gopher to score a natural hat trick since Jay Barriball did so October 9, 2010 against Massachusetts in top-ranked Minnesota’s 4-2 win Saturday against the Buckeyes.
Adam Wilcox made 25 saves for his second win in as many night.
"A lot different than last night," Ohio State (11-8-1, 1-4-1-0 Big Ten) head coach Steve Rohlik said. "For us, first time on a big sheet all year, and I think that everybody could see that right away. Lots of ice out there and Minnesota, they do a tremendous job. They have great speed and great skill and they had a lot of openings right away, but I thought that we settled in and played a pretty good hockey game.
"We just can't give Minnesota some gifts there like we did."
Offense showed up in Mariucci Arena a night after it was nowhere to seen. Both teams entered this weekend in the top-3 of total offense yet outdoors at TCF Bank Stadium as part of the Hockey City Classic. Despite controlling play and out-shooting the Buckeyes 16-7 over the first 20 minutes, Minnesota (17-2-3, 7-0-1-0 Big Ten) ended the first period trailing by a goal..
The Buckeyes survived a vicious first ten minutes from the Gophers, which included two posts by Christian Isackson (Buffalo Sabres) and Mike Brodzinski (San Jose Sharks), and scored twice in a 3:41 span. That started when Nick Oddo tipped a justin DaSilva shot past Adam Wilcox 10:35 into Saturday's game.
OSU goalie Christian Frey, starting in lieu of Matt Tomkins , made a couple key saves as a difference maker, but Warning's 8th goal of the season 24 seconds after Drew Brevig beat Adam Wilcox (Tampa Bay Lightning) on the PP cut the score in half.
"That was crucial," Gophers head coach Don Lucia said. "All of a sudden you go down two-rip and the very next shift we come back and score. It was a great play. All the way - Mike jumped up in the play and Sam went to that back post and it was Mike Reilly who put it right on his tape for an easy tap-in. All of a sudden you're back in the game at 2-1."
Warning continued his assault with a goal set up by Condon 1:34 into the second period to tie the game at 2. The junior forward, who admitted after the game that he was too passive at times when it came to shooting, completed the hat trick with a shot on the power play 8:42 into the period that beat Frey.
"It was a pretty special moment," said Warning, who could not recall ever scoring a hat trick in juniors or college.
Still, the Condon, Warning and Justin Kloos line came through Saturday afternoon. In a way it's funny that Condon, a native of Wassau, Wisconsin and Warning, a native of Chesterfield, Missouri, were two of the stars on Hockey Day Minnesota, a celebration of hockey throughout the state.
That doesn't matter to Lucia. All that does is his second line is clicking and with a hat trick (the second one by a Gopher in HDM history - Mike Vannelli had one in 2007) to boot..
"He's a Gopher. It doesn't matter where you're from."
Nathan Wells is a college hockey columnist for SB Nation and College Hockey News. You can also follow him on Twitter -- Follow @gopherstate