Gophers go to Ohio State for weekend

The Buckeyes are coming off a 15-19-5 season, but return 10 of their top 11 scorers.

by Chris Lempesis

During his tenure as Minnesota’s men’s hockey coach, one thing has been a constant for Don Lucia when his teams face squads from the Central Collegiate Hockey Association.

They don’t lose all that much.

Since coming to Minnesota in 1999, Lucia has racked up an impressive 18-5-4 mark against CCHA teams, including an 8-1-2 record over the past three seasons.

The Gophers will try to keep that trend going this weekend as they head to Columbus, Ohio for a two-game series with Ohio State at Value City Arena. Game times are set for 6:05 p.m. Friday and 7:05 p.m. Saturday.

Keeping the trend going doesn’t look to be an easy task, however.

The Buckeyes (1-1-0 overall) – coming off a disappointing 15-19-5 season – return 10 of their top 11 scorers from last season and have, according to some, the top freshman goaltender in the nation in Joe Palmer.

“The one thing that I didn’t realize is what a veteran team they have,” Lucia said. “I looked at their lineup and I saw 15 juniors and seniors in their lineup. So that’s something that we’ll have to deal with.”

On the offensive end, seventh-ranked Minnesota (2-1-0 overall) will look to get performances similar to the ones they had against Wayne State in order to rattle the young Palmer.

Against the Warriors, the Gophers scored 12 goals, including a 3-for-11 showing on the power play in Saturday’s 5-1 win.

Sophomore forward Ryan Stoa, responsible for a goal and an assist last weekend, said the team will just try to work on some little things this weekend.

“Getting pucks deep, working together as a team, trying to find some lines to gel together,” Stoa said.

As for specific players who could have strong weekends, Lucia mentioned sophomore center Blake Wheeler. Wheeler had three goals and an assist last weekend.

“I think (Wheeler’s) starting to emerge,” Lucia said. “I think he made good strides between week one and week two, and hopefully some other guys will follow suit this week.”

Defensively, the Gophers have been solid thus far and will likely have to step it up a notch to contain a veteran Ohio State offensive attack.

Senior captain Mike Vannelli said it’s not a matter of getting better in any one area, it’s just improving overall.

“It’s still early in the season,” the defenseman said. “So obviously you want to just try and tighten everything up and keep getting better. That’s the main thing. Just keep getting better every week.”

If Minnesota can continue to improve its game in these areas, the team figures to improve Lucia’s record against CCHA teams even further.

“To tell you the truth, we really don’t know that much (about Ohio State),” Stoa said. “We’re just going to go in there and see if we can do our own thing and see how that works out.”

Injuries, goalie situation

– Lucia said sophomore forward Justin Bostrom will be out for the second weekend in a row. Bostrom injured his knee in the team’s exhibition win over Lethbridge on Oct. 8.
– Stoa wore an injury cross on his jersey Wednesday but said he was “just a little banged up.”
– Lucia said sophomore defenseman R.J. Anderson’s presence is doubtful for the series. Anderson has an undisclosed upper-body injury that occurred during Saturday’s game. The team has six healthy defensemen.
– Wheeler and junior forward Tom Pohl sat out practice Wednesday with the flu. Lucia said they were going on the trip and should be ready for the series, but the team would be unsure of the players’ status until after Wednesday.
– Lucia said both goalies – senior Kellen Briggs and sophomore Jeff Frazee – will play, although he said he wasn’t sure who would play which night.

This will be Briggs’ first action of the season following a three-game suspension for an unspecified violation of team rules at the start of the year.