For the better part of the past month, the Gophers men's hockey team has thrived by limiting errors and prevailing in low-scoring, grind-it-out games. The result was a streak of six wins in seven games and a rise in the Big Ten standings.
On Saturday at 3M Arena at Mariucci, that played out again, with the 10th-ranked Gophers and No. 6 Ohio State tying 1-1 in front of sellout crowd of 10,257 on Senior Day. The Buckeyes won the shootout 2-1 on Gordi Myer's goal in the eighth round, good for an extra point in the conference standings.
With the tie, the Gophers (19-13-2, 10-10-2-1 Big Ten) missed out on a chance to secure home-ice advantage in the Big Ten quarterfinals, though they are close. They are in fourth place in the conference race with 33 points, five ahead of fifth-place Wisconsin. If Minnesota gains one more point next weekend at Penn State, it will finish at least fourth in the Big Ten and be host to a best-of-three series.
"It's definitely not a win,'' said Gophers goalie Mat Robson, who was solid with 38 saves through overtime and stopped six of eight attempts in the shootout. "It's mixed emotions in the [locker room]. Guys are bummed out, but it's kind of hard to be down because we played some really good hockey all weekend. We're not going to accept losing, even if it's in a shootout.''
Ohio State (19-8-5, 12-8-2-1) secured the extra point in the standings in large part thanks to goalie Sean Romeo, who made 34 saves through overtime and stopped seven of eight shootout attempts. The Buckeyes' Tanner Laczynski scored in the third round of the shootout, and the Gophers' Tyler Sheehy matched him. Five rounds later, Myer got the puck past Robson, but Minnesota's Tommy Novak couldn't beat Romeo.
Gophers coach Don Lucia looked at the weekend result — a win and a tie, but playoff home ice not quite secured — as a positive.
"The want-to on both sides was there, and it was just hard-fought hockey,'' Lucia said. "Both goalies were great all weekend long. … The last four games, three wins and a tie, we'll take that and bank the points that we have.''
After the Gophers won Friday's opener 2-1, Ohio State played more crisply on Saturday, outshooting Minnesota 24-20 through two periods. The Gophers, who didn't have a power play on Friday, got a five-on-three chance for 1:08 midway through the second period, but the Buckeyes' penalty kill, led by Romeo's six saves during the two-man deficit, held strong.
"We had some good looks,'' Lucia said, pointing to a Brent Gates Jr. shot that hit Romeo in the head. "Their goaltender made a half-dozen saves. There's a reason why they're the No. 1 team in the country [penalty] killing.''
In a tight game throughout, the Buckeyes pounced on a Gophers mistake when Mason Jobst broke a scoreless tie with 34 seconds left in the second period. An errant pass by the Gophers' Casey Mittelstadt led to a rush the other way, and Jobst came out of the corner to beat Robson.
The Gophers tied it with 9:33 left in the third. Gates potted the rebound of Novak shot.
"We did a great job fighting back in the third,'' Gates said. "And in overtime, too. We'll take the tie.''
Added Lucia, "Overall, I liked so much of what we did this weekend — the way we worked and competed.''