|Minnesota goalie Adam Wilcox had to make 39 saves, including 22 in the last 20 minutes of play, to earn a 3-0 shutout win against Ohio State, advancing the Gophers to the B1G championship game. (Photo by Dave Reginek/Detroit Red Wings)
Top-seeded Minnesota out-lasted Ohio State in the first semifinal game of the B1G tournament, relying on two third-period goals and a stellar performance by goalie Adam Wilcox to propel the Gophers to a 3-0 win and a spot in Saturday’s championship game.
A scoreless first period proved to be in the Buckeyes’ favor, as they carried much of the play. It was apparent early that the play of both goalies would decide the outcome as OSU’s Christian Frey and Minnesota’s Adam Wilcox traded saves on opposite ends of the rink.
“Yea I think it’s that time of year,” Wilcox said. “In general, goals against for every team in the country starts to go down and you need to have two-or-less goals at most every game. I thought the guys did a good job of re-loading when our D start to pinch. I think our forwards are getting back and doing a lot better job of that. I think we’re doing a lot better job at rush-sorting and getting guys back and have layers in our defensive zone.”
With the help of 10 blocked shots in the first period, Frey made timely saves for the Buckeyes turning away nine shots including a one-timer attempt from Minnesota’s Vinni Lettieri. With 1:10 left in the period, Lettieri was left alone near the right goal post and fired a quick shot but Frey bested him with a right-pad save to keep the game scoreless through 20 minutes.
Wilcox countered with big stops of his own at the other end of the rink. Just five minutes into the second period, the Buckeyes’ Nick Oddo won a battle for the puck along the half-wall in the offensive zone. Oddo moved the puck quickly into the slot to line mate Nicholas Jones who lost his footing and sent a blind backhand pass in the area of Chad Niddery. Near the left goal-post, Niddery snapped a quick shot at the net but Wilcox — moving from left to right — was there to make the initial save and smothered the rebound.
“The main thing for me was just hold my ground and making sure I’m at a good depth,” Wilcox said. “I worked with (the coaching staff) all week on the smaller rink and kinda getting my angles down and getting my feet set, not getting too out there or too aggressive. I think that was a big thing especially on the small rink where pucks are gonna be bouncing everywhere. There was a lot of weird bounces tonight and fortunately, they were on our side.”
Near the midway point of the game, Minnesota’s Sam Warning ended the scoreless drought on the Gophers’ 12th shot of the game with 12:09 left in the second.
A product of an aggressive forecheck by Seth Ambroz, his body-check on an OSU defenseman forced a loose puck out of the corner and up the boards where center Travis Boyd was stationed. Boyd quickly moved the puck to an open Warning in the slot. Warning snapped a wrist shot past Frey’s glove-hand and into the net for the first goal of the game.
Wilcox continued to dominate, blanking the Buckeyes offense and turning away 39 shots in the game. In the third period alone, he stopped 22 shots as OSU sent a flurry at the net with its season on the line.
“It was one of those nights where you just look at your goaltender and say, ‘I don’t think they’re gonna score one tonight,’” said Minnesota coach Don Lucia.
Then, with 9:15 left in regulation, Gophers defenseman and Red Wings seventh-round draft pick in 2010, Ben Marshall led the offensive charge through the neutral zone and across the Buckeyes blue line. Upon gaining the zone, Marshall stopped and allowed his teammates to come into position. Marshall sent a cross-ice pass to a streaking Taylor Cammarata at the far face-off dot. Cammarata then moved the puck toward the net where Frey made the initial save but a crashing Lettieri was there to finish the play, chipping the loose puck into the net.
The two-goal lead was too much for the Buckeyes to overcome, as Minnesota added an empty-net goal late and earned the 3-0 victory as well as a trip to the B1G tournament championship game on Saturday.
It was Wilcox’s sixth shutout of the season and 13th of his career, which moved him into a first-place tie with Kellen Briggs on the list of all-time shutouts in Gophers history.
The Gophers have a chance to sweep, winning the regular-season conference championship and an opportunity at the tournament championship as well when they face the winner of Michigan and Michigan State.