Men’s Hockey: No. 18 Ohio State travels to No. 6 Minnesota for Big Ten showdown

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Ohio State’s men’s hockey team celebrates after scoring a goal during the Ohio State-Penn State game on Saturday. Ohio State won 4-1. Credit: Gabe Haferman | Assistant Photo Editor

After a six-game homestand, the No. 18 Ohio State’s men’s hockey team will head to Minneapolis for their first conference road trip of the season.

Ohio State (6-2-0, 3-1-0 Big Ten) is set to battle No. 6 Minnesota (6-4-0, 3-1-0 Big Ten) inside 3M Arena at Mariucci in Minneapolis this weekend. The Buckeyes, winners of three-straight, hope to keep rolling against the Golden Gophers.

Ohio State head coach Steve Rohlik mentioned the unique challenges Minnesota will pose for his team.

“No. 1 it’s Minnesota. No. 2 you’re playing on a big sheet for the first and only time of the year,” Rohlik said. “Lots of challenges there, but also lots of excitement. We’ve had a good week of practice and I’m looking forward to a competitive series.”

The ice sheet at Minnesota is Olympic-sized and 100 feet wide, 15 feet wider than the rink inside the Schottenstein Center. Combine that with the fact that the Golden Gophers are ranked No. 6 in the country and the reigning Big Ten Tournament Champions, Minnesota is an awfully difficult opponent to prepare for.

Throughout practices this week, Rohlik and his coaching staff have been telling their players to focus on the ice’s dots to maintain an understanding of where they’ll be positionally. Rohlik said Thursday’s practice and Friday will be great for his team to get comfortable on the larger rink.

“First and foremost, they’re built for it. Secondly, we don’t practice, and we don’t play on it all year,” Rohlik said. “So obviously, when you talk about advantages, there’s your advantage for them. Again, it’s a hockey game. At the end of the day, we’ve got to adjust. It’s a challenge but we’re looking forward to that.”

Minnesota, who was predicted by the league’s coaches to finish atop the conference in the Big Ten Preseason Poll, returns home following a series split with Wisconsin in Madison. The Golden Gophers lost 4-3 in overtime in game one before winning 4-1 in the series finale.

Averaging 3.50 goals and 32 shots a contest, Minnesota is an attack-minded team. The Golden Gophers dominated the Preseason All-Big Ten Teams, accounting for six of the 12 players named to the two teams.

Senior forward Blake McLaughlin, who did not earn preseason honors, has led the charge for Minnesota with 13 points this season, grabbing a tie of the conference lead. His ten assists are also tied for tops within the Big Ten. The Anaheim Ducks prospect finished third on the team in points last year with 28.

Graduate goaltender Jackson LaFontaine surprised many when he announced he’d return to Minneapolis for his fifth collegiate season. LaFontaine was the recipient of last season’s Mike Richter Award, given annually to the nation’s best collegiate netminder.

This season, however, the Mississauga, Ontario, native has scuffled. LaFontaine is allowing more goals per contest and saving a lower percentage of shots than in each of the two previous seasons.

Minnesota will struggle to reach its lofty aspirations for this season if LaFontaine’s performance does not return to the level of last season’s.

While it isn’t a slouch on the offensive end, Ohio State is a team built on its defense. The Buckeyes rank first in the Big Ten and fourth nationally with just 1.50 goals allowed per game.

The main source of Ohio State’s stoutness without the puck comes from freshman goalie Jakub Dobeš. Dobeš was named the Big Ten’s Second Star of the Week for his performances in the two wins against Penn State Tuesday.

The native of Ostrava, Czech Republic, was named the National Rookie of the Month for October and ranks in the top-five nationally in goals-against average (1.06), save percentage (.960) and goalie winning percentage (.857).

Putting pucks in the back of the net has been a group effort for the Buckeyes. Eleven different Ohio State skaters have multiple goals this season and no individual has more than seven points, something Rohlik anticipated ahead of the 2021-22 campaign.

“First thing I saw when looking at our lineup in our first skates of the year, I could honestly say that we’re going to be four or five lines deep,” Rohlik said. “We’re going to need contributions from everybody to be successful. We don’t have that one guy, or one line that we have to rely on. As you can see, through our first eight games, it’s been somebody different every night. I think that’s a really good sign.”

Junior forward Kamil Sadlocha, who scored two goals in a 5-1 win over Penn State Nov. 5, says the team needs to put last weekend behind them and focus on the task at hand.

“Minnesota is a whole different team,” Sadlocha said. “We’ve got to prepare for that and forget about last weekend and keep working hard.”

The Buckeyes fell behind 1-0 before staging a comeback in both contests against the Nittany Lions, something that Sadlocha said they need to avoid this weekend if they want to come away victorious.

“It’s huge,” Sadlocha said. “Obviously you never want to go down 1-0, but it happens. We’re always ready to fight back and do anything it takes to win. Definitely got to get that first one this weekend.”

The trip to Minneapolis will be only the second road trip of the season for the Buckeyes and the first since the season-opening series against Bentley Oct. 8-9.

Sadlocha is looking forward to getting back on the road and spending every minute with his teammates.

“I can’t wait. Going on the road and bonding with all the guys is great,” Sadlocha said. “It’s nothing like being at home, you’re with them 12 hours a day doing whatever, so it’s a great time.”

The Buckeyes and Golden Gophers will meet at 7:30 p.m. Friday and 6 p.m. Saturday. Both contests will broadcast on Bally Sports Great Lakes and Ohio State Radio.

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