DURHAM, N.H. — In the locker room between the second and third periods, the Ohio State players talked about finding ways to win. What they found was the oldest trick in the book.
R.J. Umberger called for a Vermont defenseman to pass the puck blindly up the boards to him and the Catamount mistakenly cooperated. Umberger capitalized on the blunder, getting the puck in front to Yan Des Gagne, who buried it for the gamewinner, 3-2.
“Every once in a while you catch ‘em,” said Umberger. “You talk a lot out there and sometimes you don’t know who’s actually talking to you.”
For Des Gagne, the golden opportunity almost went by the boards.
“It was caught in my skates and I tried to kick it on my stick so I could shoot it, but it wouldn’t get away from my skate and I was getting a little scared that I wouldn’t get a shot off,” he said. “I finally got it off and it went in.”
Vermont would eventually swarm around OSU goaltender Mike Betz in the closing minute with an extra attacker, making it a six-on-four advantage, but to no avail.
“We played well enough to win,” said Buckeye coach John Markell. “There were periods where we dominated, but there were periods where we lost a bit of control. … A lot of the opportunities they got were ones that we created by ourselves by not clearing the puck or errant passes or carrying the puck back into our end.
“It’s college hockey. It’s a battle every night no matter who you play.”
Based on the teams’ records, that would not have been the expectation. The win brought 14th-ranked Ohio State to an 8-3-1 mark, while Vermont fell to 1-8-1. Even so, the Catamounts’ play belied their poor won-loss percentage.
“We played pretty well at times, but we’re getting pretty well known for killing ourselves, for shooting ourselves in the foot, whether it be a penalty or a missed dumped puck,” said UVM coach Mike Gilligan. “Every time we make a glaring mistake, it ends up in the back of our net.
“I feel good about our last five games pretty much in terms of effort, but you’ve got to learn how to win. You’ve got to outscore somebody. You’ve got to get a goal on the power play when you need it.”
Although the Conference Classic second-round pairings were predetermined to guarantee all East vs. West matchups, this contest acted as a de facto consolation game since both sides had lost the previous day. Denver had downed Vermont, 4-1, while New Hampshire topped Ohio State, 3-1.
“After the game we lost yesterday, even though we were playing the 3 o’clock game and nobody was in the stands, we had to be pumped up,” said Des Gagne. “We had to come back with a grade A effort. It was up to us to motivate ourselves after the slap in the face we got last night. That was enough to motivate us.”
Unfortunately for the Buckeyes, Vermont drew first blood at 10:13 of the first. Mike Betz stopped a Jeff Miles shot from the left, but Patrick Sharp had a wide open net to put the rebound in.
Four minutes later, though, Ohio State evened it at 1-1 when Umberger fed from the right boards to Dave Steckel on the left faceoff dot. Steckel’s one-timer beat UVM goaltender Shawn Conschafter five hole.
Following a first period in which both sides managed only six shots apiece, the second stanza saw more action with Ohio State having the better of it.
The only chance they capitalized on, though, resulted from a horrendous Vermont turnover in the defensive slot at 2:18. Conschafter was heroic making stops on labeled shots by Scott May and John Toffey, but was defenseless when Daymen Bencharski roofed a third attempt past him.
The Catamounts battled back to tie the score at 13:31 when John Longo beat Betz from the left faceoff circle, but unfortunately for Vermont, that tally simply set the stage for Umberger’s third-period trickery and another Ohio State goal off a turnover.