Minnesota looks to pull off wins against Penn State, Ohio State

Penn State and Ohio State have played Minnesota to more overtime games than any other team.

Brittany Storoz

While most Big Ten games have a tendency to go down to the wire, this weekend Minnesota will face two opponents that have forced more overtime games against the Gophers than any others. The Gophers (10-2-2 overall, 3-0-1 Big Ten ) will first face off with Penn State on Friday at 7 p.m. and No. 19 Ohio State on Sunday at 1 p.m . Both teams have played six overtime games against Minnesota, three of each going into double overtime . âÄúItâÄôs so far our biggest weekend of the season,âÄù junior forward Katie Bethke said. âÄúWe do a good job of scoring early and finishing games in regular time, but weâÄôre going to have to bring great pressure from our side.âÄù Approaching the halfway mark in the Big Ten, head coach Mikki Denney Wright said the team will rely on its fitness and conditioning to come away with victories this weekend. âÄúWe call it our peak championship week, and it shows in the way we play,âÄù Denney Wright said. âÄúTheyâÄôve put in so much time in the off-season, and now weâÄôre at the peak of our fitness.âÄù After struggling to finish on scoring opportunities in the beginning of the season, the Gophers now lead the Big Ten with 32 goals . Bethke and junior midfielder Molly Rouse , MinnesotaâÄôs two leading goal-scorers, will look to beat a modest Penn State defense. The Nitanny LionsâÄô (7-5-1, 3-1-0) back line has forced senior goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher into 58 saves this season. Naeher has given up 12 goals and has just four shutouts âÄî Minnesota has eight shutouts. The Gophers defense, which looks to be much stronger, will be challenged by Penn State senior forward Katie Schoepfer and junior forward Danielle Toney . Both are dangerous at creating scoring opportunities, but converting hasnâÄôt been quite as easy. Penn State is sixth in the Big Ten for total goals, with 21. Toney has seven of these goals to her name, three of which were game-winners. While this yearâÄôs statistics favor the Gophers, the Nitanny Lions have a history of dominating the Big Ten. Penn State has a commanding 15-3 overall record against the Gophers and boasts 11 consecutive Big Ten titles dating back to 1998 . Last year, the Gophers were the first team to put a hit on the Nitanny LionâÄôs authority, taking a share of the 2008 Big Ten title. This year, Penn State has lost even more momentum, quickly tumbling down the rankings since the start of the season. After beginning the season at No. 12 , Penn State fell to No. 24 by its fifth game and hasnâÄôt received votes since. Ohio State, (10-2-1, 3-1-0) on the other hand, has seen some of its highest marks in the polls this year. Not receiving votes in the preseason poll, the Buckeyes made it as high as 15th this season and currently sit at No. 19. Minnesota has a tight record against Ohio State (9-8-1) , taking the advantage last year when a 2-0 victory broke a six-game losing streak against the Buckeyes. While Denney Wright said that Big Ten teams change significantly year to year, the BuckeyesâÄô top playmakers havenâÄôt gone unnoticed. âÄúJust in watching them, they have a couple of freshman up top that are going to be very good,âÄù Denney Wright said. âÄúThey have a number of very dangerous and talented players, and theyâÄôre the top defensive team in the Big Ten.âÄù Ohio StateâÄôs forwards, freshman Lauren Granberg and sophomore Paige Maxwell, are the BuckeyesâÄô leading scorers, with a combined 10 goals. While the teamâÄôs offense relies on younger players, the dominating defense is fueled by juniors Cassie Dickerson and Lauren Beachy . Ohio State has allowed only 27 shots on net this season, with senior goalkeeper Lauren Robertson making 19 saves. Robertson has given up just eight goals this season while redshirt freshman goalkeeper Cat Parkhill has given up nine for the Gophers. Robertson also edges out Parkhill with nine shutouts to lead the conference with Parkhill in second at seven. While Denney Wright said both opponents have talented players, Bethke said she is confident that the GophersâÄô work ethic will help in these tough matchups. âÄúNo team in the Big Ten is just about talent,âÄù Bethke said.