After the Gophers beat No. 6 Ohio State on Friday night at 3M Arena at Mariucci, confusion ensued when it came to celebrating in the locker room.
Basically, the Gophers were lost because they had won.
“We didn’t know what to do,” coach Bob Motzko said. “They’re playing music in the locker room, and we never play music until Saturday. But [Tyler] Nanne goes, ‘We don’t know what to do.’ ”
Leave it to the team captain — and aux cord controller — to step up and decide some techno music might be in order for the Gophers’ best offensive showing of the season. The Gophers trounced the Buckeyes 6-3, reversing a streak of eight games between the two teams decided by a goal or overtime.
Such a commanding win was unusual in this particular matchup but also for the Gophers (9-10-4, 4-5-4-3 Big Ten) overall this season. Scoring goals has been a challenge, as has winning by any margin, let alone a comfortable one. That’s especially true of the first games in series.
“Usually, we’ve got to get punched in the nose, and we come back on Saturdays and have great efforts,” Motzko said.
A similar fate seemed even more likely with top goal-scorer Scott Reedy out with an upper-body injury, suffered a week ago in an exhibition. But two key line changes ended up sparking the Gophers.
Freshman Ben Meyers ascended to center Sampo Ranta and Brannon McManus on the top line while freshman Jaxon Nelson anchored the third line. Each scored a goal.
But Meyers’ line exploded. The Gophers started off slowly against Ohio State (15-7-3, 8-5-2-0 Big Ten) in front of an announced crowd of 7,489, including two early penalties. That enabled the Buckeyes to score first, on sophomore Quinn Preston’s goal. But Meyers traversed nearly the length of the rink before sweeping a backhand shot past Ohio State junior goaltender Tommy Nappier to level the score.
“I guess guys were just fired up to have a good night,” Meyers said.
When the Buckeyes again took the lead early in the second period off a Nanne turnover, Ranta enacted the spectacular tying play. He skated nearly to the goal line before snapping a quick-release shot at an incredibly tight angle, sneaking the puck behind Nappier and hitting far top-shelf.
The Gophers then rattled off three more goals. Jonny Sorenson cleaned up Sammy Walker’s rebound later in the second to give the Gophers their first lead. Then Nelson scored a trick shot, missing high but bouncing the puck off the glass and hitting Nappier in the back. Nappier trapped it in his armpit but couldn’t stop himself from sliding across the goal line. McManus then scored an empty-netter.
Ohio State scored one consolation goal late in the third period, a power-play, near-blue-line strike from Carson Meyer, but Ranta added another empty-netter.
Gophers junior goaltender Jack LaFontaine finished the game with 21 saves. Nappier, who had missed the three previous games with injury but still ranked seventh in the country with a 1.86 goals-against average entering this matchup, made 22.
The Gophers will look for the series sweep, their first in the Big Ten this season, on Saturday night.
“We had a lot of guys scoring, all three lines,” Ranta said. “Just confidence. You get a couple goals, and your confidence goes off the roof.”
• Sophomore forward Garrett Wait missed the game because of an upper-body injury and is week-to-week, like Reedy, according to a team spokesman.