COLUMBUS, Ohio — It was a game that could have been an exciting, high-scoring, back-and-forth affair, but instead Western Michigan’s 3-1 win over Ohio State on Friday was a slow-moving, careful, lullaby of a game.
The Broncos (15-3-2, 8-2-2 CCHA) handed the Buckeyes (10-8-1, 7-5-1 CCHA) their fourth consecutive loss, while retaining second place with 18 points, two ahead of Michigan.
Steve Rymsha had the game-winner, Mike Bishai notched two assists, and Jeff Reynaert made 24 saves in the win. Anthony Battaglia scored his second goal of the season, shorthanded in the third period.
“Obviously, we’re very pleased with the outcome,” said Western Michigan coach Jim Culhane. “Coming in, I knew [the Buckeyes] would be well prepared regardless of the losses of … Andre Signoretti, [Dave] Steckel, and [R.J.] Umberger. They still have a lot of depth with their hockey team.They played extremely hard, and we feel very fortunate with a two-goal win here tonight.”
“I thought we worked hard,” said Ohio State head coach John Markell. “It’s unfortunate we couldn’t get anything going, especially in the second period when we killed five in a row. What’s unsettling is you give up a shorthanded goal when you maybe had the opportunity to maybe come back and get something going.”
The only scoring of the first period was an even-strength goal by Mike McCormick at 10:18. McCormick won the draw in the right circle in the Bronco zone, then dropped the puck back to Doug Andress, who blasted one from the right point. Jeff Reynaert went down and pinched the pads, but McCormick had positioned himself to pick up the rebound, and he did — stuffing the puck in the five-hole on his second try.
In keeping with the spirit of the season, the tying Bronco goal was the result of a series of small Buckeye gifts, mostly in the form of penalties. The Buckeyes spent six of the first eight minutes of the second period in the box. It was an inevitability that the best power play in the country would put one in sooner or later.
After successfully killing off the minute of Eric Skaug’s penalty leftover from the first period, the Buckeyes played a full 60 seconds at even strength before J.F. Dufour went to the box at 2:01.Following that successful kill, Ohio State remained composed for another whole minute, at which point defender Reed Whiting — in his first game as a Buckeye — went in for two at 5:14.
Midway through Whiting’s penalty, Jaisen Freeman decided to join him.When Freeman was finally all alone in the box, Jeff Campbell picked up the gift goal, which ricocheted off the dashers behind the net and landed on his stick.He tucked it behind OSU goalie Mike Betz at the lower near corner of the cage to tie the game at 1 each.
The game-winning goal was vintage Western Michigan, scored by Rymsha from Dave Gove and Bishai at 9:10 in the third. After some action in the Bronco end, Bishai passed up to Gove, who passed up to Rymsha in the right circle. Rymsha’s goal went in long to make it 2-1.
Battaglia added an insurance goal at 10:53, shorthanded and with little resistance.
Even though each coach was happy with his team’s efforts, the game seemed a bit slow even to Culhane.”I think we’re still seeing the effects of a layoff,” he said.”We took a break for nine days, and this week was really the first week back with a full week of practice.With that, you lose some sharpness, and you also lose some conditioning.”
Given the 156 penalty minutes these teams earned in their first two contests Dec. 14-15 in Kalamazoo, Mich., the 11 full minutes of clean hockey that began this match was a surprise. In fact, there were just four penalties assessed in the first period, two to Western and two to Ohio State, and all single offenses.
The Broncos went 1-for-7 on the power play, while the Buckeyes were scoreless in their five opportunities.
“Allowing one power play against that hockey club is good,” said Markell. “It’s a lot harder on you when you’re killing penalties than when you’re on the power play. Even that [goal] came after a five-on-three.”
The Broncos outshot the Buckeyes 26-25, but Ohio State held Western to just three shots on goal in the first 17 minutes of the game. Markell said that his players’ reluctance to shoot is especially upsetting.
“We work on [that] all week … and they don’t seem to want to do it,” Markell said.”If they give themselves an opportunity to shoot the puck, they should shoot the puck.”
The two teams meet again for their final game of the regular season Saturday night.Western Michigan is three points ahead of Ohio State in the standings, and leads the season series two games to one. The Buckeyes have now lost four in a row, three without their top two centermen, Steckel and Umberger.
“We went into this weekend hoping to get points, and we still have that chance here tomorrow,” said Markell. “It’s going to test our character. It’s been a long time since we lost on a Friday night.”