Minneapolis, MN – Nearly all coaches seem to have some unique variant of the ‘big players make big plays’ mantra in their quote arsenal.
Despite a sluggish second period, the Minnesota Gophers (4-6-2 Overall, 2-2-1 B1G) pulled out a tie Friday night against a good Ohio State team (9-4-2, 4-2-1). Rem Pitlick scored on the powerplay with 40.8 seconds left in the third period to send the game into overtime. Motzko’s take on the ever-present coachspeak aphorism? “When you put your top guys out there, you need them to make plays. He made one there.”
Ohio State came into the game as the fifth-ranked team in the country, and gradually started to secure an advantage in the gameplay as the first period progressed. The Buckeyes earned the game’s first powerplay at 12:45 of the opening frame, but the Gophers’ Ryan Norman struck on a shorthanded two-on-one to put Minnesota ahead 1-0 at 14:33. Buoyed by the goal, Minnesota got a powerplay opportunity of their own just a few minutes later with a chance to extend the lead to 2-0, but the stingy Buckeye defense held firm to keep it a 1-0 Gopher lead after one.
The second period was all Ohio State, who dominated puck possession throughout the middle frame. The Buckeyes tied the game at 1-1 6:06 into the second, as John Wiitala one-timed the puck past Mat Robson from the low slot. Wiitala was open in the slot because earlier in the play Dakota Joshua blew up Sammy Walker in front of the Gopher net when he didn’t have the puck – the hit was definitely interference and looked high on the replay – but nothing was called and the goal tied it up at one goal each.
Ohio State continued getting chances throughout the second period, but Robson was up to the task, stopping 11-of-12 Buckeye shots in the second to keep the Gophers in it with an opportunity heading into the third. “[Robson] gave us a chance when we were fighting through some things,” said Motzko. “Our defensemen struggled tonight getting the puck up. We gave [Ohio State] a lot of opportunities when we could’ve gotten the puck out of the zone. I still think that’s something we can cure, and we’re gonna keep working at it.”
The third was a better period for the Gophers, who came out looking like a team that wanted to win. Minnesota was shorthanded twice in the first 13 minutes of action, but the Gopher kill was strong and kept it tied. With just under three minutes to go, a bad gap allowed OSU’s Ronnie Hein to breeze into the Gopher zone on a partial breakaway, and his backhand roofer beat Robson up high to give Ohio State their first lead of the game.
Coach Motzko was none too pleased with the defensive play that led to the goal: “I sure didn’t like their second goal,” Motzko lamented. “Neither defenseman even turned to go with the guy.” Later, Motzko expanded on that thought – “Our defensemen have to be able to read that play, and it continues to happen. We’re suiting up six [defensemen], and we’ll just keep trying. They’ve gotta be able to figure that one out. You can’t coach that… you’ve gotta know when the guy is busting through and get behind him.”
The Buckeyes opened the door for the Gophers to get back into the game when Wyatt Ege took a penalty at 17:56 of the third, and with the goalie pulled and just 40.8 seconds left on the clock Rem Pitlick’s one-time slapshot from the right circle lasered past OSU’s Sean Romeo to tie the game at 2-2 and force overtime. “[Rem] can pound it,” said Motzko. “He got open and tatered it.”
The only real chance of the OT period belonged to the Gophers, when Brent Gates and Rem Pitlick were in two-on-one. Gates found Pitlick on his left, who cut in front of Romeo to his backhand and slid the puck into what he thought was an empty net for the win. Romeo had other ideas, reaching his glove hand back to swipe the puck off the goal line and preserve the game for the Buckeyes.
For Pairwise purposes the game counts as a tie, but this year the Big Ten introduced a 3-on-3 overtime period to award the extra point in games that are tied after one OT. This was the Gophers’ first attempt at a 3-on-3 OT, and it couldn’t have started much better, as they went to the powerplay on a high sticking call. Minnesota could not convert on the 4×3 PP, and to even it up Ohio State got an opportunity on the PP, which they took advantage of on a Matt Miller slapper to gain the extra point in the conference standings.
All in all, a decent result at home against a good team when the Gophers weren’t playing their best hockey. Motzko seemed content to take the good and move on: “To me, the whole critical thing is our game tomorrow. This was a heck of a battle, let’s grow from it, let’s learn from it, but we have to show up tomorrow with much determined effort to match what we were doing tonight.”
Minnesota battles Ohio State again tomorrow afternoon. The game starts at 4PM, and can be seen on Fox Sports North, streamed on Fox Sports Go, and heard on AM1130.