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Tit-For-Tat: Buckeyes Win With Late Score

Lafleche Goal Overcomes Tying Tally By WMU

— When Vince Bellissimo tied the game for Western Michigan with less than four minutes left in the third, it looked as though the Broncos and Buckeyes would see overtime for the second night in a row — until Miguel Lafleche responded just 14 seconds later to give Ohio State the go-ahead goal and eventual victory.

“I thought we worked hard enough for a victory, and I thought we showed a lot of character by responding to a goal late in the game,” said OSU head coach John Markell.

The Buckeyes outshot the Broncos 47-22, but once again the Broncos received outstanding goaltending, this time from Mike Mantua.

“I thought people witnessed a good college hockey game,” Markell said. “There was a lot more tempo to that game than there was last night — basically [fewer] penalties. We had opportunities to score, especially in the second period, but [Mantua] gave them a chance to win.”

With more five-on-five hockey, the wide-open game favored the Buckeyes, who peppered the Bronco goaltender and defense. At the other end, OSU junior Mike Betz stood strong when he had to, especially during more than a minute of empty-net hockey at the end of the third.

“I think both goaltenders played exceptional games,” said WMU head coach Jim Culhane. “The glove save that Betz made on [Dave] Cousineau was sensational in the third period, and then six-on-five we pulled our goalie and he made some real, real solid saves.”

The teams exchanged goals in the first period, with Ryan Kesler opening the scoring for the Buckeyes at 3:08. Kesler’s eighth goal of the season was a tip-in of Doug Andress’s blast from the top of the circles.

Dana Lattery evened it up for WMU at 11:54, capitalizing on a turnover in the Buckeye end. OSU defender Eric Skaug lost the puck in front of the crease when trying to clear the zone. Jeremy Cheyne gained control and passed to Lattery, who beat Betz five-hole on his second attempt.

The score remained tied at one each until JB Bittner found the net early in the third period on the Buckeye power play. Bittner caught a piece of Scott Titus’ shot from the right point and gave OSU a 2-1 lead at 4:09.

But with the Broncos pressing hard to tie late in the game, the Buckeyes were caught on a line change and Betz was caught with his stick off the ice. Bellissimo took a pass from Cheyne near the blue line and skated in on Betz, sliding the puck under the OSU goaltender to tie the game.

But one shift later, the Buckeyes quashed any Bronco momentum with Lafleche’s goal. Scott May moved the puck up from behind the OSU net to Kesler in the neutral zone. Kesler skated into the Bronco end left with Lafleche near center, passed to Lafleche, and Lafleche backhanded it in clean.

Lafleche credited Kesler with the setup that led to the game winner. “Ryan made a great play. I just closed my eyes, shot the puck, and it went in the net.”

Culhane said that the Broncos took some momentum through the second period after killing off a key five-on-three disadvantage, but were unable to overcome OSU’s offense.

“Obviously, I’m extremely disappointed,” said Culhane. “I thought we played really hard, a gallant effort both nights, but unfortunately on our end we don’t get any points out of it. But I was really proud of our team. I think the team played hard, showed a lot of grit and determination.”

A quirk with the clock had Markell and the Buckeyes hot under the collar at the end of the game. The game clock stopped with 4.9 seconds left — and play was allowed to continue for 6.1 seconds (as timed by the Ohio News Network). This was with Mantua pulled and the Broncos buzzing the OSU net. When the clock began again, it was allowed to run out — essentially adding six seconds to the game.

“I am extremely upset with the clock,” said Markell. “It didn’t run for five seconds, and that can’t happen in this rink. It can’t happen. If that would have cost us the game, someone would have paid here.”

With the win, the Buckeyes (20-6-3, 14-4-2 CCHA) remain three points behind Ferris State (21-8-1, 16-5-1 CCHA) in second place in league standings. OSU faces Miami in Oxford, Thursday, Feb. 13; the RedHawks and Buckeyes then face off at 4:05 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 15 in the Cincinnati Gardens.

Next up for Western Michigan (13-14-1, 11-9-0 CCHA) is a home-and-home series with Ferris State, with the Broncos traveling to Big Rapids Saturday, Feb. 15, and hosting the Bulldogs the following day at 4:05 p.m.

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