New Hampshire freshman forward Steph Jones ran the gamut of emotions at the Whittemore Center on Saturday night.
The Wildcats were on the verge of dropping their second game in as many days to Ohio State when Jones — who had served a 10-minute misconduct penalty in the second period — tied the game with just 35 seconds left and then netted the overtime game-winner in New Hampshire’s 4-3 victory.
“I’m glad the kid came back and scored,” said New Hampshire coach Karen Kay.
The Buckeyes appeared to have the victory in hand in the final minute as they cycled several times behind the net while the Wildcats struggled to gain control. When Jones finally carried the puck out of her own end, she fired a high, hard shot on net.
“I was just going up trying to get the puck out and get off the ice because I was tired,” Jones said.
Jones’ shot deflected up off the right glove of Buckeye junior goaltender April Stojak and slowly fell behind her, delighting the crowd of 638 at the Whit.
“I think [Jones] was exhausted coming over the line and it ended in the back of the net,” said Ohio State coach Jackie Barto. “It was what I thought was a harmless shot.”
In the overtime, the Buckeyes forced New Hampshire goaltender Jen Huggon to make three saves to stay in the game. The first time the Wildcats managed to start an attack, they made it count. With 55 seconds left and traffic in front of the Buckeye goal, New Hampshire winger Carolyn Gordon dished from behind the net out to Jones in front and slid the puck underneath a butterflied Stojak and win the game.
“It was 20 monkeys off my back,” Jones said.
Four minutes into the second period, Jones earned a 10-minute misconduct for splashing Stojak with ice as she halted in front of the net. The penalty ignited a Wildcat team, which was down 1-0 at that point.
“Usually you get a warning for that, you don’t get a 10-minute misconduct,” Kay said. “I think it motivated her and it motivated her team. I think they realized it wasn’t going to be easy. It was a tough game to play because it was physical and you didn’t know what was going to be called.”
Two minutes after the misconduct, New Hampshire freshman Randi MacMaster circled in front of the net and crossed the puck to junior Annie Fahlenbock, who fired the puck inside the left post to tie the game.
Four minutes later, New Hampshire took the lead off a faceoff deep in the Buckeye zone as Gordon and MacMaster got the puck behind the defense to senior center Kira Misikowetz. She put in her own rebound to put the Wildcats up 2-1.
Buckeye sophomore forward Jeanne Chapple tied the game two minutes later as she was left open to drive home a rebound off a shot from freshman Jennifer Desson.
Ohio State freshman Jeni Creary, a Saskatchewan native who figured on six of the Buckeyes’ seven goals in the weekend — including all four of their goals in their 4-3 win over New Hampshire on Friday — set up a power-play goal with 7:27 left that put the Buckeyes ahead, 3-2. Holding the puck patiently at the left half-boards, she fired across ice to defenseman Emma Laaksonen at the right edge of the crease where she provided the finish.
Creary also scored Ohio State’s first goal — a pretty cut across the front of the Wildcat net with a top-shelf, backhand finish. She had punished the Wildcats with two goals, two assists, and 12 shots on Friday. Kay adjusted her lineup to match up against Creary’s talent.
“We can’t have one kid in a game dominate that much, so we put Jones up there and made sure we had a lot of size on that line,” Kay said.
Creary was credited with just one shot on Saturday, when the Buckeyes were outshot 27-22. They had outshot New Hamphire 40-19 on Friday.
“We outplayed them I think for most part of the game [Saturday],” Creary said. “We just couldn’t put the puck in the net when we needed to.”
The Buckeyes, a third-year program that made the WCHA tournament final last season, nearly earned a road sweep of New Hampshire after coming into the series 0-4 all-time against the Wildcats.
“It’s a lot better than when we came here two years ago,” said Barto, referring to a series where her team was beaten by a combined score of 12-0.
Freshmen were the difference in a series between two young teams. Creary led all scorers in the two games with three goals and three assists. New Hampshire had a freshman score a pair in each of the first two games, with Jones’ heroics on Satuday and MacMaster finding the net twice on Friday.
The freshmen have had to grow up fast in the two teams with a scarcity of seniors on their rosters. The Buckeyes naturally have no seniors, while the Wildcats have just two. That leaves both teams with plenty of room for improvement.
“I think what both teams want to do is to be better hockey teams after this series,” Barto said. “This is the kind of series you want to play in October.”