McLeod Blog: Gopher hockey insider – Ohio State

The Matchup

Minnesota Golden Gophers (4-6-1, 2-2-0 Big Ten) vs. No. 5 Ohio State Buckeyes (9-4-1, 4-2-0 Big Ten), 3M Arena at Mariucci, Minneapolis

Broadcasts      

7 p.m. Friday (FOX Sports North)

4 p.m. Saturday (FOX Sports North)

Recent history

Minnesota split at home against Michigan State last weekend and has

won two of its last three games.

THE Ohio State University (okay, Buckeye purists?) has won five of its last six and has piled up an impressive 5-1-1 road record. The Buckeyes split against Penn State last weekend in Columbus.

Head Coach Bob Motzko Is Impressed With OSU

Here’s what he said: “This is a veteran, well-coached, good hockey team. No flaws.”

To deal with that, Motzko will not only need better end-to-end performance than the Gophers gave him in last Saturday’s 4-2 loss to Michigan State, but also he’ll need a full stable of healthy horses.

In particular: Tyler Sheehy, who took a big hit in the third period Saturday night, has been skating with the red cross vest atop his practice sweater this week. That means “don’t hit me” and is worn by players who are mobile but not 100 percent healthy. I expect Sheehy to lace ‘em up this weekend.

Another wounded veteran, Ryan Zuhlsdorf, who hasn’t been able to answer the bell since Nov. 16 is improving, though also wearing the no-contact cover. Motzko said he might be available this weekend. Look for him to play.

Buckeye Killer

No one rings the bell on Ohio State as often as captain Sheehy. In fact, he’s made a career of it. Sheehy has amassed 21 points in 13 games against OSU, the most he’s notched against any opponent in a long and productive Division I career.

It started early, too. “My freshman year, we played them pretty early and it kind of took off from there,” he said. “Ever since then, I just seem to find the net against them or if I’m making plays, my linemates are finding the net. It’s funny how that works out against some teams. Ohio State is definitely one of those teams for me.”

What, not in the polls – again?

For the second straight week, Minnesota is not ranked in either of the national Division I hockey polls. It’s been three weeks since they were even 19th. The Buckeyes are ranked No. 5 in both polls.

Key Stats 

The Gophers have hosted the Buckeyes18 times – and lost only twice at Mariucci (15-2-1).This is one of the newest series for Minnesota, which traces its hockey heritage back nearly 90 years. This weekend will be only the 37th and 38th times UM and OSU have crossed sticks (27-7-2 overall).

Players to Watch

UM’s Brent Gates-Sheehy-Rem Pitlick line looks good and seems to be settling right in. Motzko: “It has a good feeling. We like how the lines are coming together right now. Going over the video, that was not our problem last weekend.”

Gates has posted three-point games on each of the last two Friday nights.

Over on the scarlet-and-gray side, look out for Mason Jobst (“yahbst”), the number one scorer in the nation. Jobst comes in with nine goals and 13 points and set a Big Ten record last weekend with his 87th point in conference play.

Why These Games Matter  

For the Gophers: They’re in the middle of a six-game Big Ten stretch and the results could loom large in March. A new coach and different systems have meant an inevitable feeling-out period and no one is claiming Motzko is on a short string. Some of the players, though, may not have the jobs they think they have if they don’t dig in and provide the wins that their talent suggests they should have.

For the Buckeyes: Just roll, baby. Head coach Steve Rohlik, 2018 Big Ten coach of the year and former head coach at Hill-Murray, has all cylinders banging in order. The Gophers can beat OSU only if they play as close to mistake-free hockey as possible and don’t let the Buckeyes get away from them.

Unusual game time

Saturday’s game will start at 4:05 p.m. Friday is a 7:05 p.m. faceoff as usual.

The broadcast crew

Ben Clymer, Katie Emmer and I will call both games on Fox Sports North. Air times: Friday, 7 p.m. CST; Saturday, 4 p.m. CST.

DOUG McLEOD is the five-time Emmy Award-winning play-by-play announcer for FOX Sports and a longtime voice of Division I and NHL hockey. This is his 22nd season calling Golden Gophers hockey games.