Earlier this week, Minnesota men’s hockey coach Don Lucia predicted his team wouldn’t have a player finishing with upwards of 80 points like Johnny Pohl (79) did last season.
However, he said the depth and balance of the team would allow for a plethora of players to tally at least 35 points.
On Saturday, the Gophers got off to a good start to proving their coach’s point as top-ranked Minnesota defeated No. 15 Ohio State 7-2 in front of an announced crowd of 15,204 at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.
All seven goals came from different players, including three freshmen – Thomas Vanek, Gino Guyer and Tyler Hirsch – recording the first points of their Gopher careers.
“We came out and played hard,” Lucia said. “A lot of guys were able to score goals and contribute. We need that.”
Other than the balanced scoring, the story of the game was the penalties and the ensuing power plays by both teams.
The Buckeyes (0-1-0) spent 28 minutes in the penalty box on 14 penalties. Minnesota (1-0-0) spent 31 minutes on 10 penalties.
“We haven’t worked on the power play that much,” Lucia said.
It didn’t show. Minnesota was 5-for-11 with the extra man, while Ohio State was 0-for-6 on power plays in the game.
In the decisive second period with Minnesota holding a 2-0 lead, junior Dan Welch scored from the left wing at 14:58.
A little more than two minutes later, following a David Steckel high sticking penalty, Gophers center Matt Koalska scored from the front of the net off a cross-ice pass from Vanek.
With right winger Troy Riddle’s unassisted even-strength goal 48 seconds into the period, Minnesota built a 4-0 lead it would never relinquish.
“We were starting to get in rhythm,” Riddle said.
The third period was a chance for the younger players to shine.
Sophomore Keith Ballard, who led all players with four points in the game, scored at 7:09. Guyer and Hirsch each added a goal by the 11-minute mark.
As the game wore on, the only question remaining was if starting goaltender Travis Weber would earn his first career shutout.
While Buckeyes goalie Mike Betz was rejecting 44 of 51 shots, Weber was on the opposite end waiting for his opportunity to shine.
Near the end, Ohio State managed to get two of its 23 total shots by Weber.
Self-assessing his performance wasn’t an easy task.
“I expected a lot of myself,” Weber said. “It’s hard to judge because there weren’t a lot of quality shots. But I felt comfortable.”
Before Minnesota could get rolling, it had to survive a rocky first period.
The Gophers attempted 20 shots on goal, compared to Ohio State’s four in the opening 20 minutes. Minnesota managed only one goal – by Vanek approximately 12 minutes into the game – while often missing open teammates on cross-ice passes and potential one-timers.
After talking over the miscues during the intermission, Minnesota came out in the second period more focused and it showed in the score.
“Everyone came together well,” Ballard said. “It feels good to get out there. We had some nervous energy earlier, but we settled down.”
fter the game, Lucia said they would continue to adjust the lines, but was happy with how they were set up.
Because of the big lead, Lucia mostly played the lines the way they appeared on the pregame line chart.
Grant Potulny started at left wing, Nick Anthony at center and Riddle at right wing. Matt DeMarchi played left defense and freshmen Chris Harrington started opposite him.
Late in the third period, Lucia gave the freshmen players more ice time.
Potulny injures ankle
unior captain Potulny injured his left ankle in the second period when he crashed into the boards feet first.
The forward was on crutches after the game, but Lucia said the injury didn’t appear serious.