Gophers get offensive barrage in sweep

Mark Remme

It’s clear that youth doesn’t equal inexperience when it comes to the freshmen on Minnesota’s men’s hockey team.

The seventh-ranked Gophers completed a two-game sweep of Ohio State in Columbus, Ohio with a 7-2 win on Friday and a 6-3 win on Saturday.

Friday’s contest was highlighted by the freshmen, who scored six of the seven goals.

With that barrage of youth productivity, the entire team followed suit. During the weekend, 16 players tallied a point.

“(The freshman are) definitely working hard out there,” senior defenseman Mike Vannelli said. “What’s impressive about them is they’re not afraid to get their noses dirty and get the puck.”

Minnesota bombarded the Buckeyes with an onslaught of offense during Friday’s game, out-shooting them 43-21.

But it was Ohio State’s undisciplined play that sparked the Gophers’ scoring output throughout the game.

Minnesota capitalized nine minutes into Friday’s contest on what would become a common theme throughout the weekend – a power-play opportunity.

Freshman forward Tony Lucia was tripped up moving the puck inside the blue line, enabling the Gophers to go on the first of their 16 power plays in the series.

Just one minute later, freshman forward Jay Barriball notched his fifth goal of the season by one-timing a cross-ice pass from freshman defenseman Erik Johnson.

“(Barriball’s) a little guy, but he plays like he’s one of the biggest guys on the ice,” Vannelli said. “He’s winning battles all over the place.”

Barriball, in the midst of a team-high, five-game point streak, returned the favor by setting up Johnson’s first career goal, which came on Minnesota’s second power-play opportunity with 8:44 remaining in the first period.

Barriball dished the puck to sophomore forward Blake Wheeler, who quickly found Johnson at the top of the circles. Johnson ripped a low snapshot that ducked underneath the stick of freshman goalie Nick Filion.

The Gophers converted 4-of-9 power-play opportunities Friday night on their way to an 8-for-16 showing on the weekend.

“We’re sharing the puck and finding people – looking for the open guy,” coach Don Lucia said.

Meanwhile, Ohio State had difficulty developing an offensive rhythm and subsequently went 0-for-6 on the power play Friday, mustering just six shots.

Senior goalie Kellen Briggs started Friday’s game after sitting out the first three games for violating a team rule, and gave up two goals on 21 shots.

Coach Lucia said Briggs made timely saves at critical points in the game and helped bolster a solid victory Friday night.

Sophomore goaltender Jeff Frazee returned to the net Saturday.

“I feel good about both goalies,” coach Lucia said. “They both played well and that’s what you have to have if you want to win on the road.”

Minnesota’s upperclassmen took charge Saturday as Vannelli and senior forward Tyler Hirsch each notched four points.

“On Friday the freshmen really carried the way and contributed, but on Saturday the older guys really took charge,” coach Lucia said. “Everyone did their jobs and played within their roles.”

Hirsch started the scoring Saturday night at just 4:24 into the first period.

Freshman forward Kyle Okposo shot the puck wide of the net and Hirsch took possession behind the Buckeyes’ goal. He wrapped the puck around the net and beat Palmer by sliding the puck underneath his blocker.

Hirsch tacked on three assists in Saturday’s game and led the team with six points on the weekend.

Hirsch’s experience and ability to make plays lightens the load for those who play around him, Barriball said.

“He makes good passes when he’s out on the ice,” Barriball said. “He always seems to find the open man and puts the puck right on their stick.”

Vannelli said though it’s still early, the trip to Columbus showed the Gophers have a cohesive unit.

“I think this was a great series for our team,” Vannelli said. “This weekend, our team really started to gel.”