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Gophers men’s hockey faces a tough matchup against Ohio State this weekend

Minnesota trails conference-leading Ohio State by five points in the Big Ten standings with one series in hand.
Image by Brad Rempel – Gopher Athletics
Gophers men’s hockey captain Sammy Walker celebrates a goal he scored en route to a 10-0 win against Arizona State on Thursday, Jan. 21, 2021, at 3M Arena at Mariucci in Minneapolis, Minn.

After last weekend’s series sweep of Michigan State, Minnesota’s depth proved they could compete and put together a string of wins as they were without four of their lineup regulars.

The sweep marked the first time the Gophers (17-11) had swept an opponent since Saturday, Oct. 30, 2021, and their collective fourth this season.

But the No. 7/8 Gophers men’s hockey team will be battle-tested again this weekend when they travel to Columbus, Ohio, to take on Big Ten standings leaders in No. 8/7 Ohio State in what could be their season-defining series.

Minnesota sits at third place in the Big Ten standings with 37 points, trailing Michigan (39) and an Ohio State team at the top of the table with 42 points.

If they can sweep another series this weekend, the Gophers will make the race for the Big Ten regular-season title very tight, depending on how the No. 4 Wolverines perform in their series against Michigan State.

“Everybody has got to pull their share of the weight for this thing to keep moving forward,” Gophers head coach Bob Motzko said. “It’s fun for them to get added responsibility in games, whether it’s penalty kill or power play or even in the lineup. We got enough good players here to keep winning.”

One player that has taken advantage of more playing time is sophomore Carl Fish.

Fish only played in nine of Minnesota’s first 20 games this season. Since then, he has skated in each of their last eight games, seeing a significant increase in playing time in 2022.

Originally from St. Paul, Fish has recorded five assists over the past six games for the Gophers, three of them coming against Michigan State this past weekend to earn him Big Ten Third Star of the Week honors.

“Everyone that I grew up with playing on the east side, they text me, they call me,” Fish said. “It means the world to me to know that they’re all still keeping in touch and keeping up to date with me. Everything that I do, it’s for them, and I wouldn’t want to jeopardize that for anyone.”
Fish’s defensive partner, junior Jackson LaCombe, has also started to kick things into gear in the second half of the Big Ten season for Minnesota.

The 2020-21 First Team All-Big Ten defenseman has one goal and seven assists in his last eight contests, accounting for almost half of his 17 points this season.

Outside of Matthew Knies, who is overseas in Beijing, Minnesota’s freshmen — Chaz Lucius, Aaron Huglen, Tristan Broz and Rhett Pitlick have really started to come along for the Gophers at a much needed time.

All of them have greatly contributed to Minnesota’s depth lately, alongside junior goaltender Justen Close, who arguably had his best weekend in a Gophers’ uniform.

Close earned two wins in the sweep against Michigan after saving a collective 46 shots on 49 shots faced. He now holds a 2.01 goals-against average and a .914 save percentage through eight starts.

When the Gophers hit the ice at the Schottenstein Center starting Friday at 5:30 p.m., their depth will need to come up large for the second-consecutive weekend.

Ohio State currently holds an undefeated record over their past seven games as they have won six and tied one.

“Ohio State, they’re the kind of team that plays hard, they play fast. They really stepped it up this year. They’re a tough team to beat and it’s shown in the past couple of weekends,” Fish said. “It’s gonna be a tough weekend.”

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