COLUMBUS, Ohio — The usually explosive Bronco offense played it much closer to the vest in sweeping the Buckeyes in Columbus, winning 3-2 tonight and 3-1 on Friday.
“It’s always more difficult to win on the road. You want to eliminate all your mistakes,” said Western Michigan head coach Jim Culhane. “With the game plan John [Markell] had in place for his team, which was outstanding, they weren’t going to give us very much. We had to make sure that we weren’t going to press too hard offensively, to try and create something that wasn’t there that becomes a turnover.”
David Gove, Brent Rumble and Jeff Campbell had the goals for Western Michigan, which was 2-for-7 on the power play. Jeff Reynaert stopped 21 in the win.
“We got two on the power play, and that ends up being the difference in the game,” Culhane said. “We each had a five-on-five goal, and we were able to get one more than they did.”
After taking a pass from Mike Bishai, Gove opened the scoring at 4:48 in the second, the first Bronco power-play tally of the night. Gove’s shot hit OSU netminder Mike Betz in the blockers and bounced in for the 1-0 lead.
The Buckeyes answered on a three-on-two breakaway two minutes later, when Jason Crain picked Brian Pasko at the Buckeye blueline to set the play in motion. Crain skated through the neutral zone and dropped the puck back to Luke Pavlas at center; Pavlas passed to T.J. Latorre in the right circle. Latorre’s clean, long shot completed the first tic-tac-toe play Ohio State has executed in recent memory.
The second Bronco lead came at 17:37 in the second when Rumble, Dana Lattery, and Gove broke in three-on-two. After passing up to Rumble, Lattery not only took Buckeye defender Eric Skaug out of the play, but tangled with Skaug to form an effective screen. Betz never saw Rumble’s shot from the left circle.
Pavlas tied the game for Ohio State with a fluky power-play goal early in the third, five seconds after Lattery went to the box for slashing. Nick Ganga won the faceoff and shoved the puck to Pavlas, who made a sweeping, off-balance attempt at a shot from left of the crease. The puck somehow found its way through traffic and ricocheted in off the far post.
Campbell’s game-winner was scored five-on-three at 14:54 in the third, when Skaug went to the box for cross-checking with Pavlas already in for a high stick. The goal was a classic close-the-box power play that caught Betz looking as the shot from the right circle went to the opposite side.
“We caused our own problems,” said Buckeye head coach Markell. “We caused the five-on-three. It was a bad play at the wrong time, against the best power play in the nation. I continue to tell these guys [that] we’re men and we can take whatever they give us, especially in a situation like that. Unfortunately, he made a rookie mistake. That play basically cost us the game.”
The game itself was sluggish and lacked flow, with a total of 68 penalty minutes, 30 for Western and 38 for Ohio State. Both teams boosted their numbers with misconducts. Western’s Pasko earned 10 minutes in the second for taking a stick poke at a Buckeye when leaving the ice. Ohio State’s Chris Olsgard went in for ten late in the first period, when he argued that teammate Reed Whiting’s tripping call was a bit soft, but the second Buckeye misconduct is one that Markell says he’ll discuss with league officials.
With less than 20 seconds left in regulation, Ohio State pulled Betz in favor of an extra skater. Brent Rumble shot the puck the length of the ice and hit the left pipe of the empty Buckeye cage. The Ohio State bench screamed for icing, and indeed one linesman had his hand up to make the call while another waved it off. Four seconds later, someone blew the whistle. The verdict: the officials had made a mistake, and the puck would be dropped at center ice.
It was then that Nick Ganga, now an assistant captain because of Andre Signoretti’s departure, pleaded the Buckeye case with referee Steve Piotrowski. The Buckeyes wanted to know why the puck wouldn’t come back to the Bronco zone. Piotrowski didn’t want to discuss. Ganga was given 10 minutes.
“That late in the game, they make a mistake,” said Markell. “I’ll stand behind Nick Ganga. He has an ‘A’ on his sweater. He’s allowed to approach the referee.”
The Buckeyes scored once on eight power-play chances. Betz made 25 saves for Ohio State.
“I thought last night was a tremendous hockey game, but here tonight, just a hard-fought battle by both teams,” said Culhane. “Either team could have won the game. We were fortunate enough to catch a break and get the game-winner on the power play.”
The Broncos improve to 16-3-2 (9-2-2 CCHA) while Ohio State flirts with .500 (10-9-1, 7-6-1 CCHA). The loss was the fifth in a row for the Buckeyes, their longest losing streak since the first half of the 1999-2000 season, when they dropped 11 consecutive games from Oct. 9-Nov. 13. The back-to-back losses mark the first time this season the Buckeyes have failed to take at least a point from a conference opponent in a two-game series.
“Won’t it be nice if I can come back and make adjustments with 22, 39, and 11,” said Markell, referring to R.J. Umberger, Dave Steckel, and Andre Signoretti, respectively. Umberger and Steckel have been playing with the U.S. National Team since mid-December, and Signoretti is academically ineligible, pending an appeal early next week.
Markell said that when the missing players return, the Buckeyes “can get back to square one and build on some of the efforts on other players like Luke Pavlas who have had a chance and worked hard [in their absence].”
Next up for the Broncos is a home-and-home series with Notre Dame Jan. 12-13, while the Buckeyes take on Michigan at home for two the same dates.