MINNEAPOLIS – If the combination of Sampo Ranta, Ben Meyers and Brannon McManus clicks like they did this weekend, the Minnesota Golden Gophers could be a serious threat in the Big Ten race down the stretch.
For now, confidence is at a new high following Minnesota’s 4-1 victory over the #6 Ohio State Buckeyes on Saturday night at 3M Arena at Mariucci. That second line pitched in for three goals in the game and seven of the team’s ten goals for the weekend, helping the Gophers pick up their first conference sweep of the season and their first since February of last season – against Ohio State in Columbus.
“That was a good weekend for us, obviously. We played hard,” said Minnesota head coach Bob Motzko. “Good forecheck, we had good balance throughout our entire lineup, good goaltending. Give our guys a lot of credit.”
Dating back to the start of the Mariucci Classic a month ago, Minnesota has been playing their best hockey. The Gophers have won five of their past six games to climb back into contention for home ice, and with a visit to last-place Wisconsin next weekend, they have a chance to keep rolling.
“Our young guys are growing up, and let’s hope that’s a sign of what’s to come,” Motzko said.
“We’ve had it since Christmas. There’s excitement about our guys playing right now. We start winning, scoring a few goals – you feel good about what you’re doing.”
Fresh off their highest-scoring game of the season, Minnesota put Ohio State on their heels on the first ten minutes, outshooting them 11-2 and going up 1-0 less than five minutes in. Bryce Brodzinski took advantage of a Buckeyes turnover off a faceoff, skated to the slot and scored for the third time this season.
Needing an answer of some sort, the Buckeyes finally put pressure on in the Gophers zone with seven shots in the final ten minutes. But Jack LaFontaine, who finished with 28 saves, stood his ground. He credits the speed of his team getting a good defensive backcheck like Ohio State’s out of rhythm to create space and put 16 shots on net. After all, Buckeyes goaltender Tommy Nappier is one of the best in college hockey, and his goals-against-average was below 1.9 coming into the weekend. Defense is a big part of that.
“When we’re playing fast, I just think we do such a good job,” LaFontaine said. “I think that was the best first period we played all year.”
Minnesota’s #2 line of Ranta, Meyers and McManus gave Ohio State all kinds of problems this weekend. They picked up right where they left off in the second period when they scored on a pair of odd-man advantages to make it a 3-0 lead. If it wasn’t poor defensive play in front of Nappier and leaving him out to dry, it was some bad puck handling in the offensive zone leading to turnovers. It just seemed like Ohio State was overwhelmed by the speed of Minnesota – or the ‘jersey-flapping,’ as Motzko calls it.
The Buckeyes ramped up the intensity in the first six and a half minutes of the third period, and it finally paid off as they drew a power play off a Brodzinski slash and cashed in as a pass by Tanner Laczynski intended for Carson Meyer on the doorstep instead deflected off his skate and in. It was initially waved off but was granted to Ohio State after a short review.
It didn’t take long for Minnesota to snatch momentum back though; the second line came through yet again just two minutes later as Ben Meyers scored on a power play to push the lead back to three goals. Meyers finished with a goal and two assists, as did his linemate McManus. Ranta had a goal and one assist.
Overall, it was a great way to cap off the weekend for the Gophers, and not just because of the sweep. Longtime head coach Doug Woog, who passed away at age 75 in December, was honored at the game. His grandkids took part in the opening ceremonial puck drop, and there were multiple video tributes from former players and colleagues throughout the contest. No doubt Wooger would have been very happy at the end of the night.
“It was great. To have the alumni back – that’s how they know Gopher hockey,” Motzko said. “Proud of our guys to play like that. That’s what those guys remember.”
MINN goal at 4:46: Bryce Brodzinski (3). Unassisted.
MINN goal at 7:42: Brannon McManus (6). Assisted by Sampo Ranta (5) and Ben Meyers (10).
MINN goal at 10:10: Ranta (10). Assisted by Meyers (11) and McManus (10).
OSU power-play goal at 6:30: Carson Meyer (9). Assisted by Tanner Laczynski (19) and Matt Miller (8).
MINN power-play goal at 8:34: Meyers (6). Assisted by McManus (11) and Robbie Stucker (4).
Power plays: OSU 1-2, MINN 1-4.
Shots on goal: OSU 29, MINN 38.