No leading scorer? That was no problem for the Minnesota Golden Gophers against the Big Ten’s top team.
Without leading scorer Scott Reedy due to an injury sustained in the exhibition matchup last weekend, Reedy’s usual linemates showed up big in his absence against the Ohio State Buckeyes for a 6-3 victory Friday night.
“One thing that we’ve been missing is offense,” head coach Bob Motzko said. “It’s fuel for these guys that we recruited in here. It’s such a tough conference, especially for underclassmen.”
Minnesota’s most successful line so far this season has been Reedy centering both wingers Sampo Ranta and Brannon McManus. Tonight, with Reedy out, that center position belonged to freshman Ben Meyers.
Meyers has arguably been one of the most intense skaters on the team in his first season, especially through the neutral zone both with and without the puck.
It also didn’t hurt that the line scored four of Minnesota’s goals in the game, including two empty-netters to seal it.
Meyers didn’t miss a beat with his exceptional linemates to score the Gophers first goal, a mark that tied the game in the first period. Meyers got the puck near center ice and just skated with it into the zone and had room right through the slot. Ranta was successful in drawing a defender to him as he crashed the net to the side of Meyers, giving the center even more room to move the puck in.
He completed the play by pulling the puck to his backhand and dropping it behind Ohio State goaltender Tommy Nappier, who made his return to the starting goalie position on Friday.
“I was all alone with the goalie, so it was a great play by [Ranta],” Meyers said.
Nappier, a junior from St. Louis, missed the Buckeyes’ last three games due to injury, where the team went 1-1-1 in his absence with two games against Notre Dame and one against Wisconsin. His return marked another severe threat to Minnesota’s chances in the game, in addition to the Gophers’ leading scorer being absent from the game.
The goaltender allowed four goals on Friday, tied for the most he has allowed in one game all season. The other two games were against Cornell and Penn State, the No. 7 and No. 5 offenses in the country, respectively.
“That doesn’t happen to Ohio State hardly ever,” Motzko said. “That was one night, tomorrow’s going to be a different story with them.”
It should have been a recipe for disaster to the home team, but the Gophers held on and got to Nappier playing in his first game since Jan. 10.
Minnesota scored a pair of goals in the second period, including another from the Ranta-Meyers-McManus line. Ranta, possessing the puck as usual, held onto it into the corner of the offensive zone, then ripped a low-danger shot at Nappier, where it squeaked in between his body and the post.
McManus completed the line’s hat trick with an empty-netter in the final four minutes of the third period to put the game away at 5-2, while Ranta got his second of the game with less than a minute remaining for the 6-3 final score.
The Gophers didn’t take this victory lightly, though. They said that while Nappier and Ohio State has been tough to score on and beat this season, the team will still be a tough opponent in the series finale on Saturday.
“We’ve just got to be ready to go [on Saturday,]” Ranta said. “Play the same way, win our battles and keep doing the same thing we did tonight.”