MARQUETTE, Mich. — Jean-Francois Dufour and Dave Steckel each tallied two goals and R.J. Umberger notched one of his own as Ohio State beat Northern Michigan 5-3 to open the regular season of Central Collegiate Hockey Association play.
Rookie Mike Betz had 26 saves in the win, the first for a Buckeye freshman netminder since Jeff Maund did it 1997. The Wildcats’ Dan Ragusett saved 28 of 33 shots on goal, and earned an assist on Harrison’s second goal.
“I thought we had a good game,” said Ohio State head coach John Markell. “I thought we played well enough to win and deserved to win the game, but we made enough mistakes to learn from them.”
Those mistakes included allowing two goals within a minute midway through the third, when the Bucks were leading 5-1. Northern sophomore Terry Harrison staged a one-man rally when the teams were playing four-on-four, cutting the OSU lead to two goals when he scored at 9:39 and 10:34.
“We got a little complacent,” said Markell. “It was a good lesson to learn.”
For the first half of the game, the Buckeyes dominated play, limiting Northern to shots earned during power-play chances. Dufour gave Ohio State a 1-0 lead after the first with a clean one-timer from just inside the blue line when the Buckeyes had the man advantage at 9:35 in the first. Umberger passed up to Dufour through the neutral zone, who skated into the Northern zone, letting rip from the right point past a Wildcat defender to the far side of the net.
“I knew I could use that defenseman as a screen,” said Dufour. “It’s the kind of thing I’ve been meaning to do more. I thought I’d take a shot and see what happened.”
Steckel made it 2-0 at 7:03 in the second, skating in solo on the left wing and forcing the puck in between Ragusett and the left post. Four minutes later, Dufour registered his second of the night when he picked up Umberger’s rebound.
Peter Michelutti cut the Buckeye lead to two with his goal on a delayed penalty at 12:46. Betz was the victim of heavy traffic as Michelutti capitalized on Chad Theuer’s rebound to make it 3-1, but Steckel struck again to give the Buckeyes their second three-goal lead at 15:46 on a sweet feed from the corner by Ryan Smith.
Umberger made it 5-1 at 7:27 in the first, the kind of goal that makes you wonder if the rookie comes equipped with eyes in the back of his head and built in radar. Set up by Mike McCormick, Umberger skated in near the right post and backhanded the puck through an opening roughly the size of, well, a puck. How the goal hit the back of the opposite side of the net remains a puzzle for the physicists to unravel.
Harrison’s one-man show began at 9:39, when he picked up Chris Goberts’ rebound, and ended at 10:34 when he slapped his second one home from the blue line.
“I thought they were excellent,” said Northern Michigan head coach Rick Comley. “They had a great start to the game and really came out flying. Obviously, they can skate and handle the puck and their freshman class is everything it’s billed up to be.
“I thought our defense really struggled. I don’t know. Their speed perhaps. It was more them than us.”
The Buckeyes were 1-for-8 on the power play, while Northern went 0-for-6. The number and type of penalties were a factor in the game, said Comley.
“It’s going to be really frustrating this season, the way things are called, but I think they [the officials] are doing what they’re told [by the league],” he said.
The teams meet again Saturday night for their final regular-season match of the year.