MINNEAPOLIS — Early in 2020, before all the messiness began, the Minnesota Gophers won their fourth Big Ten game of last season on Jan. 24, beating Ohio State at home.
A whole heap of things can change in 10 months or so.
Via Tuesday’s 2-0 home win over the Buckeyes, the Gophers have a quartet of Big Ten wins before Thanksgiving, in just four games, and are looking every bit like the deep, experienced and hungry team that the league’s coaches picked for the Big Ten title.
They got goals from Scott Reedy and Nathan Burke to go along with 22 saves from Jack LaFontaine, as the senior recorded his first collegiate shutout. The Gophers (4-0-0 overall, 4-0-0-0-0-0 Big Ten) are off to their best start since the 2014-15 season.
“We couldn’t be more proud of our guys. Fourth game in six nights and this was our best of all four,” Gophers coach Bob Motzko said. “You watched one heck of a goaltender’s duel between two seniors... I thought their guy was outstanding in net tonight. We could’ve put that game away a few times.”
Tommy Nappier had 33 saves for the Buckeyes (0-2-0, 0-2-0-0-0-0) in the loss.
For LaFontaine, who came to the Gophers as a transfer last season after playing two years at Michigan, it was the first clean sheet since he played junior hockey.
“He’s been answering the call for us every game,” Reedy said. “Every time a shot is coming his way he’s playing the puck well, so he’s on top of his game right now and we really trust him.”
Playing in this post-pandemic condensed schedule, Motzko and company were well aware that fatigue could be a factor later in the evening. If the intent was to build a big lead in the opening period, they got ahead, but maybe not comfortable. The Gophers tested Nappier plenty, with 15 shots, but only Reedy’s rising blast got over the goal line. After a long lead pass from Brannon McManus, Reedy popped Nappier in the shoulder with the puck, and saw it flip over the goalie and into the net. It was the team-leading third of the season for Reedy, who led the Gophers with 15 goals last season.
“It’s all about getting in the right areas for me. I’ve gotten some nice passes, fortunately, so far,” Reedy said. “I’m kind of finding my groove, and I’ll keep working on my shot. I get in the right areas and call for the puck. That’s all it is.”
Ohio State coach Steve Rohlik challenged the play, claiming that the Gophers had six players on the ice, but the goal was upheld after a video review. The closest they came to a two-goal lead was late in the first when Jaxon Nelson clanked the pipe.
After a scoreless second period, matching penalties early in the third meant 4-on-4 hockey for two minutes. A turnover by the Buckeyes led to a rare 2-on-0 break for the Gophers with Nappier thwarting chances by both Sammy Walker and Blake McLaughlin.
Burke finally gave the Gophers some breathing room, scoring his first of the season after a set-up from Ben Meyers. The Gophers briefly appeared to go up 3-0 on an extended 5-on-3 power play, but what would have been Reedy’s second goal of the game came off the board after video review showed the puck was played with a high stick.
“We’re not a fancy team. We’re a really good team, and we’re going to have to score goals like that,” Motzko said, of the gritty work close to the crease that led to Burke’s insurance goal. “That’s going to have to be our calling card. I thought Burke had a very good game tonight, getting rewarded like that, and Ben Meyers has been great all four games.”
LaFontaine, who has played every minute for the Gophers thus far, was brilliant in locating pucks through traffic, especially in the final 20 minutes when, still trailing by just a goal, the Buckeyes pressed hard for the equalizer.
“I’m not tired at all,” LaFontaine said after the game. “That’s the whole point of working out in the off-season...There’s a reason to the madness of why we train the way we do.”
The Gophers are off now for more than a week, next facing Michigan State on the road on Thursday, Dec. 3.
Click here for Jess Myers' video wrap-up.
Ohio State 0-0-0—0
First period — 1. MIN, Scott Reedy 3 (Brannon McManus, Ryan Johnson), 1:53. Penalties — Matt Cassidy, OSU (cross checking), 6:39.
Second period — No scoring. Penalties — Jaedon Leslie, OSU (tripping), 7:57.
Third period — 2. MIN, Nathan Burke 1 (Ben Meyers, Jackson LaCombe), 11:54; 5. MIN, Sampo Ranta 1 (Reedy), 9:17. Penalties — Ben Brinkman, MIN (holding), 2:56; Matthew Jennings, OSU (embellishment), 2:56; Kamil Sadlocha, OSU (cross checking), 14:16; Cassidy, OSU (hooking), 14:34.
Shots on goal — OSU 6-9-7—22; MIN 15-10-10—35. Goalies — Tommy Nappier, OSU (35 shots-33 saves); Jack LaFontaine (22-22). Power plays — OSU 0-of-0; MIN 0-of-4. Referees — Kenneth Anderson, David Marcotte. Linesmen — Jonathan Morrison, Samuel Shikowski. Att. — NA.