Gophers face tough matchup with Ohio State for WCHA Final Faceoff semifinal

The Gophers are 0-3-1 against the Buckeyes this season.

Forward Kelly Pannek watches the puck drop during a game against Ohio State on Feb. 27, 2016.

Sam Harper, Daily File Photo

Forward Kelly Pannek watches the puck drop during a game against Ohio State on Feb. 27, 2016.

by Max Biegert

Minnesota enters the weekend looking to win the WCHA Final Faceoff and punch an automatic ticket to the NCAA Tournament.

In order to do that, they have to go through one of their toughest opponents.

The No. 7 Gophers (22-10-3) will take on No. 5 Ohio State (23-9-4) in the second semifinal of the WCHA Final Faceoff on Saturday night at Ridder Arena. In the first four matchups between the teams this season, the Gophers went 0-3-1 versus the Buckeyes.

“The kids are a lot more confident than they were early in the year and they believe they can win as we look forward to Saturday,” head coach Brad Frost said.

The winner of the Minnesota and Ohio State semifinal game will play against the winner of the other semifinal between Wisconsin and Bemidji State.

The Gophers are not only looking for the WCHA Final Faceoff title, but an automatic NCAA Tournament berth. The winner of each conference gets an automatic bid to the tournament. If Minnesota does not win its conference, it will have to hope for the committee to pick it as one of the eight best teams in the country.

The No. 7 Gophers want to make the committee’s decision an easy one by winning the Final Face-Off.

Minnesota has not won a WCHA Final Faceoff since the 2013-14 season and has not missed the NCAA tournament since 2006-07.

“Absolutely, our season is on the line,” junior Taylor Williamson said. “We are going to be prepared, focusing only on Ohio State, nothing else.”

In the first series against Ohio State in early October, Minnesota earned just one point. The two teams met in Columbus, Ohio in January for the second series. The Gophers were swept this time.

Forward and defenseman Sophie Skarzynski said that the Gophers have a bad taste in their mouths after the way things have gone against Ohio State this season.

“We are going in with our chip on our shoulder, we are not going to underestimate these guys; they are going to be a team that won’t give up,” Skarzynski said. “It’s going to be a fun game, and the losses and tie to them will give us extra fire to win on Saturday.”

Ohio State has one of the top goaltenders in the country, Kassidy Sauve. She earned All-American second team accolades last year. Sauve was named second team All-WCHA this year.  She leads the WCHA and ranks third nationally in saves with 849.

Besides the Buckeyes, the only team that Minnesota has had a tougher time winning points against this season is Wisconsin. Frost hopes that changes this weekend.

“We have not been able to find that timely goal, but this past weekend is a good indicator of how we can finish games when we are up a goal or two in the third period,” Frost said.