KALAMAZOO, Mich. — It’s become a familiar pattern for the Ohio State Buckeyes. Go on the road for a two-game series, win the opener.
R.J. Umberger had two goals and an assist, Andre Signoretti had three helpers and Mike McCormick’s first tally of the season was the game-winner as No. 12 Ohio State bucked No. 6 Western Michigan 5-2 in Lawson Arena on Thursday.
“We didn’t get to the net too much,” Broncos coach Jim Culhane said. “We’ve got some good skill out there … but they shut us down pretty well. They worked really hard on the penalty kill, and we were trying to be maybe a little bit too creative and we didn’t get the puck to the net. You’ve got to go to the net to score.”
The Broncos had a season-low 19 shots in a contest that saw 111 penalty minutes — 66 in the first period alone — with seven Western Michigan power plays.
“We can’t take the penalties we did tonight and expect to win,” Culhane said. “They’re pretty skilled, pretty gifted on the power play. We’ll have to regroup with that tomorrow night.”
“I thought it was a typical high-pressure game,” Ohio State coach John Markell said. “It was a good game to watch, a good game to coach. I thought we played a good 60 minutes of hockey.”
Steve Piotrowski kept it tight during an emotionally charged first period that threatened to unravel with five minutes to go. In the first 15 minutes of play, there were 14 penalties called, giving the Broncos two power plays and the Buckeyes three, with one set of coincidental minors.
At 15:16, things got a little hairy when Mike Bishai remained in the hunt for the puck after Mike Betz had covered and the whistle had blown. The resulting tussle sent Bisha, Rymsha, and OSU’s Jaisen Freeman and Dave Steckel to the box with two-minute minors all around.
Then seconds before the buzzer at the end of the period, someone pushed someone else, who pushed someone else, and eight men wound up with 40 minutes. Broncos Bishai, Cousineau, and Jeff Campbell, and Buckeyes Signoretti, Freeman, and Dufour — the entire OSU senior class — received two minutes each for hitting after the whistle.
Additionally, Rymsha earned four minutes for hitting after the whistle and a 10-minute misconduct, while Steckel had two for cross-checking, two for hitting after the whistle, and 10 minutes of his own.
“I thought [Piotrowski] called it even both ways,” Markell said. “He did the right thing, calling everybody.”
Rymsha opened the scoring for the Broncos in familiar fashion on a two-man break with Bishai at 6:39 in the first. It was the only even-strength Western goal on the night.
“When that first goal happened we thought, ‘OK, we can’t be doing this, because it’s going to end up in the back of our net,’ ” Markell said. “That set the tone that we had better pay attention to detail.”
That lesson learned, the Buckeyes scored three unanswered goals in fairly quick fashion.
Jean-Francois Dufour tied the game with his ninth of the year, a power-play blast from the top of the slot at 10:01, assisted by Signoretti and Doug Andress.
Three minutes later, Umberger’s first goal of the night, also on the power play, made it 2-1.
Then at 16:24, McCormick, fresh out of the penalty box, made good on a timely feed from Umberger, and scored a gorgeous goal in a game that saw several highlight-reel qualifiers.
Umberger skated in right with McCormick left. McCormick — arguably the fastest Buckeye — poured on the steam and crossed the slot to reach the bottom of the right circle, where he took Umberger’s forward pass on the fly and in one fluid motion backhanded the puck upstairs as he skated past the right post.
The Broncos cut the lead to within one at 18:44, when Bishai scored on the power play from Cousineau, and the period ended 3-2.
But when Umberger stuffed the puck between Reynaert’s leg and the right post to give the Buckeyes the 4-2 lead at 2:35 in the second, the eventual outcome was obvious.
Nick Ganga added an empty-net goal with two seconds left in the third.
Betz had 17 saves in his ninth win of the season. Reynaert saved 21 of 25, as the Buckeyes outshot the Broncos 26-19. OSU went 2-for-7 on the power play, and held the Western Michigan PP to one goal on nine attempts.
“I thought our defense played really well,” said Markell. “We were choking them into the middle, which means our wingers were making the right read on the defensive side of the puck.”
The Buckeyes improved to 10-4-1 (7-3-1 CCHA) and jumped into a tie with Michigan and Miami for second place in the CCHA. The 10 wins represent the Buckeyes’ best start since the 1983-84 season.
Western Michigan (11-3-2, 6-2-2 CCHA), tied for fourth in the league with Northern Michigan, suffered just its second league loss and has lost two in a row for the first time this season.
The clustermates meet for their second game of the year Friday night, something Culhane views as a positive.
“The good thing is that we don’t have to sit here for another couple weeks before we play,” he said. “We’ll come back tomorrow to play against a really good Ohio State hockey team. Give them a lot of credit. They outworked us. They beat us tonight. Good team.”