KALAMAZOO, Mich. — Just a few weeks ago, having won seven of eight contests, sixth-seeded Western Michigan was one of the hottest teams in the CCHA.
Saturday, they find themselves one loss away from an early off-season.
Daymen Bencharski tallied at 19:31 of overtime to give seventh-seeded Ohio State a dramatic 3-2 victory over WMU in game one of the first round of the CCHA playoffs.
After previously giving the Buckeyes the lead at 16:01 of the third period, the 5-11 sophomore tallied again, in overtime, after taking a feed from Doug Andress before beating WMU senior netminder Jeff Reynaert between the legs to put OSU up 1-0 in their best of three series in Kalamazoo.
“I just circling in the zone,” said Bencharski, “Doug [Andress] hit me with the pass, and the defenseman was looking like he was going to stand me up, so I walked along the line and, basically, just shot for an open net.”
WMU lost only one game in the month of February, by virtue of sweeping Bowling Green, Northern Michigan, Ferris State, and splitting at Nebraska-Omaha. But it all comes to naught if the Broncos lose Saturday.
WMU head coach Jim Culhane spoke about that fact following the game.
“What I just talked to them about was that we have to win two games to win the series. Now our backs are against the wall, and we have to win both. There is still a lot of fight in the Broncos, and now we have to win two games. But, it’s not over; we have an opportunity tomorrow to come back, tie the series, and force a Sunday game. That’s what our focus is going to be, and we’ll continue to prepare for that.”
“Give them a lot of credit. Both teams are pretty evenly matched, both kids in net played great, big saves for both of them, and (the Buckeyes) were able to find the one goal they needed to win.”
While the Broncos were busy sweeping opponents, the Buckeyes found themselves falling fast. Having only won five of their last 16 contests, while sporting a 4-11-0 record away from Columbus, many wondered if OSU had packed it in early.
OSU head coach John Markell had a different perspective.
“We talked to them all week, it’s the second season for us.”
“I think we played hard. I felt we deserved to win this game, we had enough opportunities to do it. We did a good job killing penalties at their opportune times and created scoring chancesIt’s very, very important to get the first win.”
WMU, hosting its first playoff series since March 9, 1996, showed the same lack of offensive firepower as they did March 1-2 against Michigan, putting 23 shots on OSU sophomore goaltender Mike Betz, including only three shots in the second period. On the flipside, Reynaert was spectacular, making 35 saves, including several in the third period and overtime, to keep the Broncos alive.
“I think we were a little tentative,” said Culhane. “(Our) first time in six years playing at home, I think we were a little tentative initially, and we didn’t generate many quality scoring chances on the power play. We made some changes and adjustments going into the third period, and I felt we played pretty well in the third, and I felt we played pretty well in overtime. I think the first two periods were a little cautious, a little tentative, and we weren’t getting many shots on net, obviously on the power play, but still, we were right in there. At that point, it’s still a 1-1 game.”
The Broncos, for the second consecutive game, were held scoreless with the man-advantage, going 0-for-7. Losers of their last three contests, WMU is a combined 1-for-18 on the power play over those last three games.
Bencharski spoke about shutting down the potent Bronco attack.
“Obviously they have some big guns on this team, they have some high scoring forwards, and if we can contain them, we can contain their offense. I think we did a really good job of that tonight.”
The hot hands of WMU forward Dana Lattery put the Broncos on top 1-0 at 8:32 of the first period when sophomore took a long pass from sophomore defenseman Mike Jarmuth, skated in alone from the blue line, and deked twice before beating Betz stick side.
Despite the goal, OSU continued to beat the Broncos to every loose puck, and the work paid off when sophomore forward Paul Caponigri deflected an airborne shot from Scott May past Reynaert at 9:08 of the second period to even the score at 1-1.
“I think we played pretty solid,” said Bencharski. “We controlled most of the game, we had couple small let-downs that ended up in the back of our net, but I think we controlled the game.”
Bencharski’s tally to put OSU up 2-1 came when the Beaverlodge, Alberta native took a loose puck that slid to the far side of the crease off a scramble and put it past Reynaert for his 12th goal of the season.
WMU tied the game 2-2 at 17:50 of the third period when CCHA All-Rookie selection Pat Dwyer took a rebound off a shot from Jeff Campbell stick-side of Betz and put it home to send the game into sudden-death overtime.
Betz wouldn’t let the goal faze the Buckeyes.
“I turned around and Jason Crain is bending over on his stick and R.J.’s looking like someone killed his dog, and I was like ‘come on guys, let’s get going,’ we came into the locker room and [J.B.] Bittner got the guys going. He said ‘what, do you think they were going to give the game to us after they scored?’ We just knew we had to come out with a better effort.”
A better effort from the Buckeyes emerged from the locker room as the Buckeyes outshot WMU 10-2 in the extra period, including Bencharski’s goal, en route to a 3-2 victory.
Following the contest, Culhane was asked how much he missed sophomore forward Paul Davies and senior forward Chad Kline, who have 35 points between the two players.
“They are intrical parts of our team. Two guys who play in a lot of different key situations for you and add some more depth to your team. You miss them, but there’s nothing we can do about that. We get Paul back in the lineup tomorrow, but Chad will still be questionable.”
Markell knows there is still a lot of hockey to be played.
“We aren’t going to gloat in this win. We deserved to win, but we only have so much time to think about it and enjoy it, but then we got to get right back to work.”
The two teams meet in game two of the series, Saturday, at Lawson Ice Arena. Faceoff is scheduled for 7:05 p.m.