Saturday, December 5, 2015

Ohio State Buckeyes 2 at Minnesota Golden Gophers 3 (OT, NCAA Hockey, Big Ten) - December 4, 2015

With a day off between the Leafs games in Minnesota and St. Louis, I had to find an event to attend in one of those two areas. Fortunately, I didn't have to look far as there was a Big Ten hockey game at the University of Minnesota, with the Golden Gophers hosting The Ohio State Buckeyes at historic Mariucci Arena.

Located on campus right next to TCF Bank Stadium and easily accessible via the Green Line, Mariucci Arena extensively chronicles the Gophers long and storied history. Immediately upon entry, you will see the national championship years overhead. These titles are mentioned in several other spots...

...such as the actual trophies which are in a display case on the concourse.

The Golden Gophers have seen several players move on to the NHL, including Blake Wheeler and Phil Kessel.

They have also had several Olympians on their squads, and some medals are also on display.

These are just a few of the items showcased throughout the single concourse. There are also artworks, banners, and other touches that make this such a great place to visit. Get here as soon as gates open and take your time wandering around.

However, getting in is not necessarily a cheap proposal as Mariucci might be the most expensive NCAA rink. Tickets go as high as $50, outrageous for this level of hockey but understandable given the demand. There is a secondary market though, and I was able to get a front row seat for $20. Had that failed, I would have bought a standing room tickets for $15. This is the SRO view from the corner; rather steep 24 rows up. Usually SRO fans can move to a seat after the first period, but empty spots can be tough to find here as the team usually sells out.

As mentioned, there is only a single concourse with the seating bowl below. It is spacious enough and shows the six other Big Ten teams on beams. Yes, there are only six Big Ten teams that play hockey, adding to the confusion over the conference's name (14 schools play football and basketball).

The players' warmup period ends 23 minutes before scheduled puck drop, and that is when the band takes their turn. They assemble at the far end of the concourse and then circle it once, all while playing loudly and proudly. It takes a few minutes and is quite enjoyable to watch.

Another interesting touch is the Sun Country Zamboni, which has a little nose and tail to complete the airplane motif.

I really appreciated all that they had to offer here. I have only seen one other Division I NCAA arena (Yale) and that too had plenty of history and a unique design. There are 60 Division I hockey programs, so I'll have to visit a few more to see if they are all so interesting.

The Game

This was the first game in Big Ten play, though neither team came in having done very well in non-conference play, with the Gophers at 4-7 and Ohio State at 3-9. Minnesota started rookie Eric Schierhorn (tending goal above) who has a bright future after being named USHL goalie of the year last season. Ohio State went with Christian Frey (peeking around the defenseman below), in his third year with the Buckeyes.

Ohio State scored midway through the first when Josh Healey (#47 above) snapped a shot that Schierhorn should have stopped. The Buckeyes doubled their lead in the second on a power play goal from Nick Schilkey.

The crowd of 9,296 was not particularly excited after 40 minutes, but a couple of power play markers  for the home team (Tyler Sheehy and Tommy Novak, Nashville's 3rd-round pick this year, doing the honours) in the third sent us to overtime. In the NCAA, the extra period is played 5-on-5 but even then, it didn't take long for a decider as Hudson Fasching (drafted in the 4th round by Los Angeles in 2013) beat Frey with a low shot stick side for the 3-2 win.

This was a very entertaining game from start to finish and has caused me to re-evaluate my take on college hockey. I had only seen a couple of games and neither was particularly memorable, but this one had some great plays and excellent goaltending. Check out the Gopher-produced highlights (no Ohio State goals) here.

There's the final, a hard luck loss for the Buckeyes, who get no points for their effort. Sadly for them, they lost in overtime the following night too.


Two years ago I stopped in Tucson to see the Arizona Wildcats host Arizona State in club hockey. Since then, Arizona State has joined Division I and is the only independent team at that level. They have a lot of long road trips!



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