Gophers home streak not safe when Buckeyes visit

Austin Cumblad

Since 2005, the Minnesota women’s hockey team has split every Western Collegiate Hockey Association series it has played against Ohio State. They’ll be trying to change that this weekend.

The Buckeyes come to Ridder Arena for a pair of games slated for 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday to attempt to knock off a Gophers team that is an unbeaten 11-0-2 at home.

But there is more at stake for Minnesota than a perfect home record.

They currently rest in second place behind a streaking Minnesota-Duluth, winners of 12 straight in the WCHA, and although the Gophers (21-4-3 overall, 17-4-1 WCHA) are riding a 13-game conference winning streak of their own, Duluth is still seven points ahead in the standings.

Because Duluth has played two more games in conference than Minnesota, that margin could be as small as three, but the Mavericks have not lost since falling to the Gophers in November and a let-up now would be surprising.

Furthermore, Minnesota realizes it can only control its own destiny, so the only conference opponent the team cares about this weekend is Ohio State (12-13-3, 7-12-3).

“I think our team does a great job with not worrying about what everyone else is doing,” junior forward Gigi Marvin said. “The most important thing is focusing on ourselves and continuing to get better every single week.”

The Gophers will be hard-pressed to improve on last week’s performance as they thoroughly dominated Bemidji State in 5-1 and 4-1 drubbings. Minnesota outshot the Beavers 81-30 in those games and had 12 different players notch at least one point.

If the team can manage to put that many shots on net again, the Gophers should have no problem sliding a few past Ohio State’s goalkeepers, who collectively have a 3.33 goals-against average in conference play.

“We have to make sure we pepper the goaltender and get the puck through,” senior forward Erica McKenzie said. “The more pucks the goalie doesn’t see from screens and tips and crossing the net, the better position we’ll be in.”

Equally important is Minnesota limiting the number of chances for the Buckeyes. When the teams met earlier in the season, Ohio State notched four goals in both games. The Gophers have allowed opponents to score four or more goals only two other times this year.

Clearly the Buckeyes have offensive firepower and although they allow more than three goals a game on average, Minnesota refuses to underestimate Ohio State’s defense.

“Ohio State has great defensemen; everyone around the league knows that,” Marvin said. “We’re very aware of what they can do in their own zone.”

Still, if the Gophers continue to play offense like they have the past few series, the Buckeyes may be in for a long weekend. But coach Brad Frost expects two competitive games.

“It’s always a fun series against Ohio State,” he said. “We have a good rivalry with them and they have some Minnesota kids that love to come back and play the Gophers, so regardless of records it’s going to be a great series, and hopefully we do enough to get four points.”