KALAMAZOO, Mich. — In front of a half-filled Lawson Ice Arena, defensive breakdowns cost Western Michigan dearly.
Ohio State dropped WMU 3-1, Friday, thanks to a solid performance from sophomore Mike Betz, who finished with 20 saves on the evening. OSU senior forward Mike McCormick tallied a goal and assist for the game, as did sophomore forward Paul Caponigri, who scored the game winner at 12:56 in the second period. Miguel Lafleche also scored for the Buckeyes (11-7-1, 7-5-1 CCHA).
Asked if it was a typical Betz performance, OSU head coach John Markell agreed.
“With the way he’s been playing, yes. We’ve had points in the game where we’ve played well in front of him and won, and we’ve played poorly and he’s kept us in there.”
Jeff Reynaert posted 23 saves for the Broncos (11-7-3, 5-6-2 CCHA), and senior Mike Bishai scored the lone goal for WMU by skating across the crease from the corner left of Betz and beating the sprawling goaltender.
WMU controlled the game for much of the first and second period, including
preventing an OSU shot for the first six minutes of game, until a defensive
mistake on a neutral-zone faceoff allowed McCormick to find Caponigri skating
untouched past the Bronco defense, before the Oak Park, Ill. native deked past
Reynaert for the game-winner at 12:56 of the second period.
OSU capitalized on another Bronco defensive mistake when Caponigri again skated in from the blue line unmolested, but was stopped by a Reynaert poke check before McCormick blew it high past the flattened goaltender to give the Buckeyes a 3-0 lead.
WMU head coach Jim Culhane knew exactly what cost the Broncos.
“They capitalized on their opportunities to get the three goals, and we didn’t capitalize on ours. We didn’t score on our chances, they scored on theirs, and that ended up being the difference in the game … We have to minimize our errors.”
Markell gave credit to his players on the goals.
“We worked hard for that. We stayed patient, and there was also commitment on our kids’ part to block shots, and I thought they did a good job of that. We’re proud of the win, we got a few hours to savor it, and then we got to get right back at it because Western Michigan is a good hockey club and they want to come back and put it to us.
“The guys in the dressing room know they can win if they work hard. We beat (Nebraska) Omaha without Steckel … We beat a good hockey team in Cornell without them, and we beat a good hockey team here tonight. I’m not taking anything away from Western Michigan, they played hard, and they’re a good hockey club. I’m already worrying about tomorrow.”
Friday’s physical game between two schools who have played six times in 13 months, featured its own share of nastiness. Betz was assessed a roughing minor for throwing a punch at a Bronco during a pileup in front of his net, and OSU defensemen Jason Crain and JB Bittner, WMU defenseman Ryan Crane, and Bishai were all involved in a scrum after Bittner took offense at an alleged spear from Crane and proceeded to take the Bronco defenseman to the ice from behind.
Bishai also became involved as linesmen Brent Gawlik and Kevin Langseth attempted to break the players up. Crain, Crane, and Bittner were all assessed minors on the play.
Saturday’s rematch takes place at 7:05 p.m. at Lawson Arena.