This weekend, hockey fans in Columbus get to witness the most dominant hockey team in recent memory. It’s not an Olympic team, it’s not an NHL team; those two fields have too much parity for this type of success. Friday and Saturday, we get to welcome the Minnesota Golden Gophers Women’s D1 ice hockey team to the OSU Ice Rink versus the Lady Buckeyes. Unfortunately for Ohio State fans, the Buckeyes are in for an uphill battle to keep up with the Gophers in any aspect of the game. Minnesota are the defending national champions… and they’re much better now than they were last year.
To lend some perspective, let’s look at Minnesota’s offense first. Their whole team scores at a blistering 5.64 goals per game, almost a goal better than second place Boston College (with 4.74). The gap itself is simply massive. In the Men’s D1 this year, first place is only held by a margin of 0.20 goals per game; in Women’s D1 last season Cornell only led by 0.07 goals/game. The sheer magnitude of the goal numbers is also astonishing. 5.64 goals per game is better than any team since 2002-2003 when Harvard and Minnesota-Duluth dominated the top scoring in the NCAA.
Leading the way for the Gophers is the most powerful scoring force in college: Amanda Kessel. Kessel’s numbers are unbelievable: she currently has 83 points in 27 games, an eye-popping 3.07 points per game. Perhaps even more remarkable? She has 37 goals in those 27 games, over 1.37 goals per game. If the season ended today, she’d already be near the top in almost all single-season scoring records in the NCAA, and Minnesota has six more games (including the two against Ohio State).
But let’s say a team miraculously shuts Kessel down (it hasn’t happened yet this season). Minnesota then has four more point per game scorers including the number two producer in the country, freshman Hannah Brandt. Brandt’s numbers look pedestrian relative to Kessel, but they’re still almost 10 points ahead of the next closest player. Add in the country’s best power play (clicking at 33.86%) and you’ve got an absolute offensive juggernaut.
So opposing teams have a rough time shutting down the Gopher offense. That means they should try to keep up, right? If only it were so simple. Behind all that firepower is the best defense in college hockey, with an average goals against of 0.79 goals per game. That’s not a typo, they allow less than a goal against per game!
The core of the stingy power is Noora Räty, the Gopher who is also the Finish national goalie. Her resume is phenomenal: she’s already the all-time wins leader in NCAA history, and that comes with a sparkling career .945 save percentage. She doesn’t just win because of the team in front of her. This year, Räty’s .956 save percentage is second in the country and her 10 shutouts lead the way, only four short of the all-time single season NCAA record. As crazy as it may sound, she just might get there.
All this superpower production on both ends of the ice leads to a completely ridiculous +132 goal differential over their undefeated 28 games. Oh, and they’re currently riding the longest winning streak in NCAA history (starting from last year and including their championship victory). It’s simply unfair what they do. The closest they’ve been to a loss this season? A 4-2 victory over North Dakota in late October.
I realize this seems like a hype post about Minnesota more than proper preview, but that’s kind of the point. When Ohio State last played the Gophers they were easily thumped in two games by a combined total of 15-2. This isn’t a series that the Buckeyes are likely to win (if they do, it would be the upset of the year), but competitive balance shouldn’t be the reason you make it to the games.
Quite simply, you need to get out to see the Minnesota machine at work. Women’s hockey may not have the hitting or speed of the NHL, but the skill and unparalleled excellence of the Gophers is in a class above any of their peers. They’re the defending champs, so they were on my calendar anyway; this kind of season only confirms what a show it’ll be.
Ohio State Women’s Hockey games are free; get there Friday at 7:00 pm and Saturday at 1:00 pm.