Top-Ranked Gophers Pull Away From OSU

Behind an efficient power play and a shutdown defensive effort, No. 1 Minnesota pulled away from the Ohio State hockey team on Friday night by a 5-1 score. Tanner Fritz had the OSU goal. Next up is a Senior Night rematch on ESPNEWS Saturday night

Minnesota scored twice in the first period and that proved to be enough for the Golden Gophers against Ohio State in Value City Arena.

But the Golden Gophers continued to methodically bludgeon the Buckeyes and skated to a 5-1 final score Friday before 4,924 fans.

Taylor Cammarata had a goal and two assists to lead the Gophers (24-4-5, 13-2-2-0 Big Ten). Connor Reilly and Kyle Rau both had a goal and an assist and Justin Kloos and Vinni Lettieri also scored to back 30 saves by Adam Wilcox.

The Tampa Bay Lighting draft pick was outstanding in net when the game was close to deter the Buckeyes' upset bid.

"We had good opportunities," OSU coach Steve Rohlik said. "People talk about their forwards. They talk about their D. Sometimes you forget about if not the best, one of the best, goaltenders in the country.

"He stood tall. We had some point-blank chances throughout the game. He made some great saves. Minnesota's a great offensive team but they play great defense as well. People forget about that."

The Golden Gophers were simply too deep and balanced. Defenseman Mike Reilly, a Columbus Blue Jackets prospect, assisted on the first three goals in the city he may one day call home as a pro.

Junior forward Tanner Fritz scored midway through the second for OSU (15-12-4, 5-8-4-3) to cut the deficit to 3-1 but that only seemed to inflame the Gophers and they responded less than three minutes later with a pair of goals 21 seconds apart.

"We got the goal there that kind of changed momentum to get us back into it but they scored a quick one," Fritz said. "It takes the wind out of your sails.'

Connor Reilly made it 4-1 at 13:01 after a faceoff win. Justin Holl got the puck and fired from the blueline where Reilly got his blade down for the redirect.

That's when Rohlik decided to replace freshman Christian Frey (16 saves) with freshman Matt Tomkins but he didn't fare any better on the Gophers' next shift when Lettieri skated out of the left corner and beat the netminder short-side. Tomkins finished with 12 saves.

OSU is 0-3-1 in the past four games against the top three teams in the conference – Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan – after a six-game unbeaten streak.

The Golden Gophers, perennially one of the top teams in the country, continued their mastery of the Buckeyes. They won for the eighth straight time in the series and own a 15-1-0 all-time record.

The first period was played at a frenetic pace but the Buckeyes skated with Minnesota, outshooting the visitors 12-9, so it was disheartening to be trailing by two.

"We know they have a good D corps so you want to chip pucks, get after their D and play physical," Fritz said. "We did that for most of the game then two bad breaks, two bad errors that they capitalized on and we couldn't come back."

Mike Reilly got the Gophers rolling at 2:03 of the first period with a centering pass to an open Cammarata in the slot. Frey made the initial save but Kloos swooped in from the left to clean up the second-chance opportunity.

Minnesota added another goal on its first power play opportunity thanks to a fortuitous bounce. A Mike Reilly pass went off Rau and seemed to fool Frey, who went down. Rau gathered the loose puck for the put-back goal at 16:05.

"It was a little frustrating there because we had some good shifts, we were playing pretty good hockey, but when you make mistakes those guys will make you pay," Rohlik said. "That's why they're No. 1 in the country for 90 percent of the season."

The penalty kill let the Buckeyes down again in the second. After Michigan scored on 3 of 4 chances Sunday in a 4-3 win, the Gophers made it 2 for 3 at 10:14 with some tic-tac-toe wizardry down low that enabled Cammarata to pepper a one-timer under the crossbar.

With the threat of a blowout looming, the Buckeyes finally scored at 10:50 of the middle period with junior Max McCormick doing the gritty work for Fritz. McCormick drove the net and was falling down but still able to get off a shot. Fritz rammed his way to the crease and poked the puck past Wilcox before greeting the crossbar.

The loss was similar to the game Sunday when the Buckeyes also trailed Michigan 2-0 in the first period and had to chase the game.

"It forces you to do things maybe you shouldn't be doing. You saw a little bit of that tonight," Rohlik said. "You try to do too much instead of sticking with it, doing the chips and using teammates and doing it together. Sometimes when you try to do more, you hurt the team."

The teams play again Saturday at 6:30 p.m. (ESPNEWS) on Senior Night as the first regular season in Big Ten history begins to wind down.

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