DETROIT — When Ohio State head coach John Markell called for a time out after Alaska-Fairbanks scored a pair of goals 20 seconds apart to take a 5-3 lead in the second CCHA Quarterfinal game, he only had one thing to say:
“We came up with that word before the playoff started,” said OSU goaltender Mike Betz. “[Markell] said, ‘We need a word … that I can just say it and we know exactly what it means, it’s all encompassing.’
“I don’t think anybody [on the team] thought we were going to lose that game.”
Their faith in themselves paid off for the Buckeyes, as they beat the Nanooks 6-5 in overtime to advance to the early CCHA Semifinal game against Michigan Saturday.
Daymen Bencharski notched two for OSU, Chris Olsgard netting the game-winner, and Betz made 24 saves in the win.
Five different Nanooks accounted for the UAF goals. Daniel Carriere had a goal and two assists, Cam Keith had a goal and a helper, and Aaron Voros had two assists on the night. Lance Mayes allowed two goals on eight shots before being replaced by Preston McKay, who made 29 saves in the remainder of the game.
This contest couldn’t have been much different from the earlier 3-1 Northern Michigan win over Notre Dame. That game was careful, paced, cautious. This was a wide-open affair, the kind of back-and-forth hockey that can give a team hope — and break a team’s heart.
“I don’t really know what to say,” said UAF head coach Guy Gadowsky, “other than that I thought it was just an excellent hockey game. I thought it was very exciting. I think we made it a little more exciting than we would have liked to, being up two in a position to take it home.
“You certainly have to give credit to Ohio State for coming back, for showing so much heart. They played a great game. They came back and they certainly deserved a great win.”
Ohio State took an early 2-0 lead on goals by Daymen Bencharski and Miguel Lafleche, but the Nanooks answered to even it up when Bobby Andrews and Jared Sylvestre scored late in the first. It was 2-2 after one.
Ryan Lang made it 3-2 for UAF, unassisted, when he stole the puck behind the OSU net and wrapped it around the right corner of the cage, putting it by Betz low on the ice between the netminder and the post at 12:20 in the second, but Bencharski scored again for the Buckeyes just 44 seconds later to make it a 3-3 game going into the third.
When Daniel Carriere scored at 2:53 in the third to give UAF a 4-3 edge, followed 20 seconds later by Cam Keith to make it 5-3, things looked good for the Nanooks in their first-ever trip to the CCHA championship tourney, and dire for the Buckeyes.
That’s when Markell called the time out, and when the Buckeyes turned it up a notch.
At 10:45, Jason Crain scored a highlight-reel goal from just outside the crease, on a sweet feed from Lafleche near the boards to bring the Buckeyes to within one.
At 16:39, Paul Caponigri returned Ryan Lang’s earlier favor, scoring a goal in the exact same manner — stealing the puck behind the UAF net, wrapping it around the front on the right side, and stuffing it in past Nanook goaltender Preston McKay, on the ice, between the netminder and the post.
And it only took one shot in overtime — the only shot in overtime — to win the game, when Chris Olsgard put the puck in through McKay’s five-hole at 5:01 to give the Buckeyes the victory.
When asked to describe the game-winning goal, Olsgard said, “You’re asking the wrong guy because I had my eyes closed. I don’t even know how the puck came to me. I just crashed the net really hard, and good things happen when you go to the net that hard.”
The Nanooks came as close as a team can to securing victory at 14:13 in the third, while up 5-4. Voros backhanded the puck up and over Betz on the glove side for what appeared to be UAF’s sixth goal, but after mandatory video review, Referee Brian Aaron said the goal was waved off because Voros was in the crease.
Gadowsky said that when Ohio State jumped out to an early lead, he wasn’t concerned enough to say anything to his team. “They’ve been in that situation before and … responded quite well all year. I actually was quite confident that they would again, and we certainly are not at all happy with how we played the first period.”
The Buckeyes needed just that one word — faith — when the Nanooks garnered a two-goal lead of their own early in the third, and Betz said that he had no doubt that OSU would battle back. “When you’re season’s on the line, you don’t fold after two goals like that.”
Ohio State (20-15-4) meets No. 1 seed Michigan in the first Semifinal game Saturday, at 2 p.m. in Joe Louis Arena. Alaska-Fairbanks (22-12-3), a bubble team for the NCAA tournament, now plays the waiting game until the weekend is over.