Hockey City Classic: Preview of Gophers vs. Ohio State

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Coming off a 3-2 loss to Wisconsin in last season’s Hockey City Classic, the Minnesota Golden Gophers are looking for another chance at outdoor hockey prominence. Minnesota will get that chance on Friday night at TCF Bank Stadium, as they will host the Ohio State Buckeyes in Big Ten Hockey Conference action.

The two teams will meet for the first time as conference opponents and the newly formed conference rivals will get to battle under the lights, in the elements. With near sub-zero temperatures expected, the two squads will have to bring their very best to the ice to earn a victory.

Ohio State currently sits in the middle of the Big Ten standings, but has only played four league games to date. Their 11-6-1 overall record is reasonable and they have a couple nice wins on the season. In the most recent USCHO.com polls, the Buckeyes were just on the outside of the Top 20. They earned 40 points total — good enough for No. 22 overall in the nation.

Ohio State is led by Hobey Baker hopeful Ryan Dzingel on offense. A junior forward with 13 goals and 14 assists — both team highs. His 27 points on the year are good for a tie at No. 16 nationally in scoring.

Where Ohio State is most vulnerable is between the pipes, as the Buckeyes are still looking for some identity. Four different goaltenders have seen ice time this season — including three freshmen.

Rookie Matt Tomkins has seen the most playing time on the year and will likely make the start on Friday against Minnesota. The big 6-foot-3 netminder should give the Buckeyes some strength in goal to defend against the strong Minnesota forecheck.

Besides the outdoor game at 8 p.m. CT on Friday, the two teams will have a quick turnaround for a 5 p.m. faceoff on Saturday in the series finale inside the confines of Mariucci Arena. The earlier than normal start time is because, of the game’s inclusion as a part of Hockey Day Minnesota on Fox Sports North. The broadcast will be part of a full day of hockey coverage on the network.

Minnesota has been playing better as of late with their special teams, but they’ll have their hands full with the Buckeyes. Ohio State is just behind Minnesota in goals per game at 3.83 per — putting them in third place to Minnesota’s second nationally.

What separates them from Minnesota, is that Ohio State has been dominant with the man-advantage this season. Coming in with the seventh-best power play in the country, the Buckeyes are clicking just above 22 percent on the year.

This may prove to be the difference in this series, but I doubt Ohio State will be able to keep up with the nation’s No. 1 team at full strength on either size playing surface.

With a traveling outdoor ice-sheet installed at TCF Bank Stadium, it brings with it a standard NHL-size rink. Smaller than the Olympic-size rink that Minnesota plays their home games on in Mariucci Arena.

Due to the change, Minnesota head coach Don Lucia has been skating his team at Ridder Arena leading up to the game to prepare for smaller ice — a luxury that few teams in college hockey get to have at their disposal.

Being the poster-child for the State of Hockey comes with some pressure, but with the knowledge and experience from last season’s Hockey City Classic, the Golden Gophers should come out victorious — outdoors and indoors this weekend.

If you’re going to the game, dress warm. Tailgating will be allowed for the event, so get there early and take in the Minnesota women’s game against Minnesota State-Mankato, then head back outside the gates to warm up in any fashion you desire.

The Hockey City Classic game can be found on the Big Ten Network. Both games can be heard on 1500 ESPN in the Twin Cities.

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Topics: B1G, Don Lucia, Hockey, Hockey City Classic, Minnesota Golden Gophers, TCF Bank Stadium

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