DURHAM, N.H. — In terms of territorial play, shots and almost every measure conceivable, New Hampshire dominated Ohio State. Even so, the game’s outcome remained in the balance with the score 1-0 until Josh Prudden’s power-play goal late in the second period gave the Wildcats a two-goal cushion they never relinquished en route to a 3-1 win.
UNH had taken a lead just three minutes into the game on another power-play goal, this one by Steve Saviano, but despite peppering OSU goaltender Mike Betz, could not put away the Buckeyes. The Wildcats attempted an eye-popping 39 shots in the first period with 24 of them on net.
“We knew we had to adjust to the size of the [Olympic] ice surface, but I was a little overwhelmed by their team speed,” said OSU coach John Markell. “I didn’t expect that many shots. We were lucky Mike Betz kept us in there.
“They’re a hungry hockey club. They’re ranked sixth in the country for a reason. … [We] have never opposed a team like that on this size of an ice surface.
“We had too many guys, whether it was nerves or not, have a ‘B’ game and some of them ‘C’ games. For us to be effective as a team, we need to have all 20 [on their 'A' games]. … I can’t have half my team give me a ‘B’ effort and the other guys work hard. We can’t rely on our goaltender that much.”
While the 14th-ranked Buckeyes fell to 7-3-1, No. 6 New Hampshire moved to 6-2-2 and set up a championship Conference Classic contest with second-ranked Denver (9-0-0) on Sunday. The pairings were prearranged to maximize the East vs. West flavor of the tournament, but now they fortunately pit the two first-round winners in the nightcap, following a 3 p.m. matinee between Ohio State and Vermont.
The matchup between UNH and Denver might have lost some of its luster had Ohio State capitalized on one of their rare counterattacks while the score still stood at 1-0. The potential deflating effect of falling into a tie after total domination was avoided, though, by the prowess of Michael Ayers in the Wildcat net. Starting only his fourth game of the year, the sophomore had gotten a little unintended motivational help from the Buckeyes.
“I got hold of an article from a newspaper out in Ohio this past week,” he said. “One kid had said that they were going to pump six goals by me and then [force us to] put [our] number-one guy in. That kind of kept me motivated to keep my head in the game.”
Which he did with perfection until an R.J. Umberger goal midway through the third with UNH already up 3-0. Without question, Ayers did his best work staying sharp while play was mostly in the other end, and the score remained stuck at 1-0.
“Michael made some real good saves,” said UNH coach Dick Umile. “It was 1-0 and we were cycling and getting some great shots and all of a sudden they had an advantage play and he comes up with the save.”
UNH had dominated the first period in every possible way, but came away with only a 1-0 lead for its efforts. Shot charts for the period not only showed a 24-7 lopsided advantage, but also almost as much congestion in the slot in front of Betz as Route 93 on a July 4th weekend.
The sophomore, however, was outstanding, stopping all but Saviano’s power-play tally. Saviano, who moved onto the top UNH line with Darren Haydar and schoolboy linemate Sean Collins after David Busch broke his hand last weekend, converted the rebound of a Tyson Teplitsky shot from the point.
At the time, UNH held a 7-0 shot advantage and it looked like an early blowout might be in store as the territorial domination continued. Instead, Betz kept the Buckeyes within a single counterattack of tying the game. While a few OSU chances did materialize, most notably a Dave Steckel tester from the top of the left faceoff circle, UNH netminder Michael Ayers was up to the odd challenge.
“We had 24 shots on the board, but they were still in the game even though we had a lot of chances and a lot of shots,” said Haydar. “If they would have scored a goal, that could have changed our mentality. But we stayed with it and we chipped another one in and just stayed with it.”
That second goal came after UNH killed its first penalty at 12:36 of the second. Back on the power play, the Wildcats threatened on a two-on-one with Prudden and Colin Hemingway. Prudden backhanded his fourth goal of the year in for an immeasurably more safe 2-0 lead.
New Hampshire got its lone even strength goal at 4:16 of the third from Haydar to make it 3-0. Hemingway carried the puck over the blue, slid it to Lanny Gare, who skated hard to the net before dropping it for Haydar. The senior knocked it in for his sixth of the year.
R.J. Umberger broke up Ayers’ shutout bid at 10:35, taking a high flip from Eric Skaug that bounced funny at the feet of a UNH defender. Umberger stole it away and breaking in, roofed it glove side.
The game marked the introduction of new home jerseys for the Wildcats that were silver instead of the traditional white. The hot sellers in the concession stands also sparked the best one-liner of the postgame press conference.
Said Ayers, “My pads are all silver so I look like the Tin Man out there.”