Sam Warning skated into the spotlight glowing on center ice at the appropriate time.
The Gophers junior forward had just completed the coveted hat trick and Mariucci Arena celebrated longer than normal. Hats were scattered all over the ice, honoring goal No. 3, scored 8 minutes, 42 seconds into the second period.
Referees let the 9,972 fans enjoy the Gophers’ first hat trick in over a year.
Warning’s surge of offense was enough for the Gophers to rally past Ohio State 4-2 in Saturday evening’s portion of Hockey Day Minnesota. The victory finished off a sweep of the Buckeyes on a weekend dominated by hockey events.
“It was a pretty special moment. I think at the time, though, it was a 3-2 game [for the Buckeyes], so I couldn’t get too excited about it,” Warning said before joking he wished he could have kept some of the hats thrown onto the ice.
“I have to give a lot of credit to Justin Kloos and Nate Condon,” Warning said. Those guys worked hard tonight. I kind of just went to the side of the net and got great passes from both of them.”
Condon and Mike Reilly were instrumental in Warning’s big night, each assisting on two of his goals.
The changes Gophers coach Don Lucia and his staff continue to make since returning from winter break have produced positive results. The spark for Warning and Condon came a week ago at Penn State.
The pair combined for four points in the series finale and outdid themselves by combining for five points on Saturday.
“Sam just seemed to be in the right place at the right time tonight,” Condon said. “He was working up and down the ice. I think I had to thank him for putting [those pucks and passes] into the back of the net.”
Warning’s favorite goal was the first. It swung the momentum in favor of the Gophers (17-2-3 overall, 7-0-1-0 Big Ten) who fell behind 2-0. On the rush, Condon found Reilly on the left side, who found Warning’s stick for the easy tap-in.
Ohio State (11-8-1, 6-0-1-0) scored first on Nick Oddo’s deflection of Justin DaSilva’s shot. Lakeville native Drew Brevig scored four minutes later on a Buckeyes’ power play.
The Gophers were the better team early on, though. Christian Isackson hit the crossbar in the opening minutes. Michael Brodzinski followed with a shot off the right goalpost.
Buckeyes coach Steve Rohlik said it was obvious his team hadn’t played on an Olympic-sized rink yet this season. They were giving the Gophers too much space.
Ohio State goaltender Christian Frey held the Gophers scoreless for nearly 15 minutes, but couldn’t stop Warning later. Seth Ambroz padded the Gophers lead with a goal midway through the third period.
This offensive-minded approach was expected from two of college hockey’s top scoring teams. Friday night’s outdoor conditions weren’t conducive for a lot scoring.
“I thought there would be a few more scoring chances tonight and there was,” Lucia said. “I thought we came out and played a great first period … give our guys a lot of credit for staying with it.”
The Gophers extended their unbeaten streak to 10 games (8-0-2), the longest in Division I hockey currently. Goalie Adam Wilcox made 25 saves a night after shutting out Ohio State.