Coach Bob Motzko believes his Gophers men's hockey team has another offensive gear that it hasn't shown until recently. Key to that has been the play of junior linemates Sammy Walker and Blake McLaughlin.
"We're starting to see Walker and McLaughlin be Walker and McLaughlin,'' Motzko said this week.
That was on display Friday night in Columbus, Ohio, when Walker and McLaughlin each had a goal and two assists in the Gophers' 5-1 victory over Ohio State. The duo has combined for nine goals and nine assists over the past three games.
"He's been kind of harping on us the last couple of games,'' McLaughlin said, referring to Motzko. "We're competing a little harder and making more plays.''
Added Walker, "That's just the way we can play.''
The fourth-ranked Gophers (14-3, 10-3 Big Ten) also got a goal and an assist each from Sampo Ranta and Ben Meyers, and a shorthanded marker from Jackson LaCombe. Goalie Jack LaFontaine made 17 saves but saw his bid for a fourth shutout end with 4:19 left in the third period.
Ohio State (5-11-1, 5-10) tried to set a physical tone. Buckeyes defenseman Ryan O'Connell hammered Gophers winger Brannon McManus up high with a hit three minutes into the game, prompting someone to yell, "It's not Arizona State this weekend,'' a reference to Minnesota's series sweep of a shorthanded Sun Devils squad by a combined 20-2 last week.
"They were hitting all over the place,'' McLaughlin said. "Once you're hitting guys, you're taking yourself out of the play.''
Rather than get involved in a physical game, the Gophers turned to their skill. Two first-period sequences in particular showed that.
• Walker led a shorthanded rush with McLaughlin, forcing Buckeyes goalie Tommy Nappier to make the save on McLaughlin's original shot. LaCombe deposited the juicy rebound at 6:32 for a 1-0 lead.
• Ranta made it 2-0 for the Gophers at 11:29 with his team-leading 11th goal. The Finn took a pass from Meyers at the Minnesota blue line, blew by Buckeyes defenseman Evan McIntyre, froze Nappier with a move across the crease and tucked the puck in the net.
"We were really high on that goal because it started with great defense in our own zone,'' Motzko said, crediting Meyers' work.
• The Star Tribune did not travel for this game. This article was written using the television broadcast and video interviews after the game.