COLUMBUS, Ohio — For the second time in three weeks, the Ohio State Buckeyes (6-2-1, 4-2-1 CCHA) knocked off the No. 6 team in the nation with a home Friday win, beating the Northern Michigan Wildcats (6-2-1, 6-2-1), 3-1.
T.J. Latorre’s second-period goal, his first of the season, held up to be the game-winner, and Mike Betz made 25 saves as the ‘Cats outshot the Bucks, 26-22. Miguel Lafleche and R.J. Umberger also scored for OSU, and Chad Theuer was credited with NMU’s only goal.
“It was very physical [with] opportunities on both sides, and we were fortunate enough to score the goals we scored,” said OSU head coach John Markell. “I thought the teams gave the fans their money’s worth tonight. I’m very happy four our guys; they worked very hard for that.”
Northern Michigan head coach Rick Comley said that the Wildcats came out a little flat in the first, when shots were a rare commodity. Through the initial 20 minutes, OSU outshot NMU 6-2, and Northern registered its first shot on goal at 9:31 into the stanza.
“They certainly controlled us in the first period,” Comley said. “We looked pretty tired, which isn’t unusual with the long trip, then I thought we kind of got our legs and played much better.”
The Buckeyes took the early 1-0 lead on Miguel Lafleche’s third goal of the season at 1:35 of the first. It was an end-to-end play that began with Eric Skaug in the Buckeye zone and ended with Lafleche’s wrister from the right of the crease, with Scott May playing middleman in the neutral zone.
Scoring early was important, said Lafleche, “because you want to get the momentum going, to get the biggest lead possible, as soon as possible. They [NMU] won’t quit.”
After killing off a penalty for the first two minutes of the second and trailing 1-0, the Wildcats redoubled their efforts in the Buckeye end, pressure that paid off in a fluky goal at 4:05.
Buzzing around the OSU net, Northern kept the play close to the cage while closing the envelope around the crease. In the confusion and traffic, Chad Theuer’s shot from the left circle deflected off Buckeye defender Pete Broccoli’s shin pad and through Betz’s five-hole to even the score.
OSU took the lead for good with less than a minute to go in the second when Latorre scored. Broccoli scooped the puck to behind the Northern net, where Dave Steckel found it and passed between his own legs to Latorre, who popped it over the sprawling Kowalski to break the deadlock.
“Really, I was just trying to get it to the net,” said Steckel. “I heard Latorre calling it, and it ended up being right on his stick.”
R.J. Umberger capped the game for OSU at 14:40 in third, another in a life-long series of picturesque goals. After Yan Des Gagne tied up a Wildcat at the Buckeye blue line and freed the puck for Umberger, the sophomore center streaked in on the right wing, waited for Kowalski to commit himself low, crossed the slot, looked back at the goal, and backhanded it in high.
Betz credited the Buckeye defense with not only shutting down the league’s top power play, but with handcuffing the Northern offense. “On the PK, especially, it was unbelievable [with] Pete Broccoli taking pucks off of every conceivable part of his body. They [NMU] really didn’t have too many clean chances. We just did a great job all night.”
Broccoli will most likely miss Saturday’s rematch because of a concussion, and “took about 20 stitches” in the chin, said Markell. Broccoli went down in the third period after being boarded by Dan Donnette at 10:01, and Markell questioned referee Brian Aaron’s two-minute call, thinking, he said, that since blood was drawn it was an automatic major penalty.
“Apparently, it’s discretionary,” said Markell of the call. “I was a little bit upset about that, but … I learned something today — it’s his discretion.”
The Buckeyes finished 0-for-8 on the power play, and Northern was 0-for-6 in a game that saw a variety of calls, including a 10-minute misconduct for OSU’s Chris Olsgard, who protested his two-minute call for goaltender interference in the second period.
“There were an awful lot of penalties in this game, and I think that worked more to their advantage,” said Comley. “I think the big play of the game was when we didn’t score five-on-three. If we had gone up 2-1, I think for road teams sometimes your spirits go way high.”
The Wildcats had that five-on-three opportunity for 1:16 in the second period, after May was called for slashing behind the OSU net when Bittner was in the box serving Olsgard’s interference call.
“We didn’t score on our five-on-three either,” countered Markell, whose squad had the same advantage midway through the third. “Both teams did a good job on killing.”
Comley called the game “a good battle,” and implied that the third Buckeye tally was the proverbial nail in the Northern coffin. “That was a great play by Umberger on that third goal. He’s a good player.”
“It was a nice move by R.J. to score that goal,” said Markell, “but I thought the whole team had the effort, the whole night, from the defense and goal all the way out to the forwards.”
The teams meet again Saturday night at 7:05 p.m. for their last regular-season conference game. It’s possible, however, that the Buckeyes and Wildcats could meet again in December, when each participates in the Everblades College Classic.