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MEN'S HOCKEY: Buckeyes knock Gophers out of Big Ten tourney

ST. PAUL -- Minnesota was kicked out of its own house party Friday night at the Xcel Energy Center by an Ohio State team that had not defeated the Gophers all season.

It was a stinging 3-1 defeat to be sure but not postseason fatal. The No. 1-ranked Gophers are poised to host the West Regional of the NCAA tournament next weekend, when single elimination becomes reality.

“Like I told the guys after the game,” said Gophers coach Don Lucia. “This is our last opportunity for a learning experience.”

The Gophers (25-6-6) dominated a fatigued Buckeyes team coming off an emotional overtime victory over Michigan State in Thursday’s quarterfinals. They rattled two goal posts but could not come up with the equalizer after Ryan Dzingel’s goal off a deflection 9:08 into the third period gave Ohio State a lead it scrambled to protect.

“Coming down the stretch we thought we had a pretty good chance to tie it up, but we just couldn’t find the back of the net,” lamented Minnesota forward Travis Boyd.

Anthony Greco’s empty-net goal with 26.6 seconds remaining sealed the win for Ohio State, which faces Wisconsin in today’s 7 p.m. championship game.

The victory was especially sweet for first-year Buckeyes coach and St. Paul native Steve Rohlik, who was 0-3-1 against Minnesota this season, having been outscored 12-4.

“I’m proud of our guys,” Rohlik said. “We beat the No. 1 team in the country in their backyard. Our guys have never been on this state. We bended but didn’t break. It’s a good feeling but we’re not done yet.”

Wisconsin (23-10-2) is a virtual lock for an NCAA tournament spot, but the Buckeyes (19-13-5) need to defeat the Badgers to earn the Big Ten’s automatic bid. Minnesota very likely will be a No. 1 seed when the bracket is revealed Sunday morning.

“I was really hoping we’d get to (Saturday) just for the added experience … just to experience playoff hockey,” Lucia said, referring to his six freshmen forwards. “But it wasn’t to be. Bottom line, we’ve got to score this time of year.

“We’re not going to win very often scoring one goal. That’s the part that’s most disappointing.”

Nick Schilkey’s goal at 15:20 of the first, a redirection on a power play, gave Ohio State the early lead.

Kyle Rau answered for Minnesota at 4:47 of the second, converting a nice passing play from Taylor Cammarata and Boyd.

Midway through the third, Dzingel pounced on a loose puck in the high slot. He double-clutched on the shot, firing the puck through traffic and off a Gophers stick past a stunned goalie Adam Wilcox.

“You play desperate teams, you’ve got play desperate with them, and we didn’t do that tonight,” Rau said.

The Pioneer Press is a media partner with Forum News Service.