DETROIT — After two days of high-intensity hockey, the CCHA Super Six consolation game was an uninspired letdown.
Interrupted repeatedly by minor penalties called against each team, Northern Michigan’s 4-1 win over Ohio State had all the intensity of an ether-filled room, but with half the excitement.
In the end, though, it wasn’t the entertainment value that mattered to either team.
“I was really happy with the guys,” said NMU head coach Walt Kyle. “I was proud of the effort. I spent enough time in the minor leagues and pro hockey to know how difficult it is to play three games in three nights. To have to play three is a really, really daunting task. I give these guys a lot of credit. They played hard.
“We came out and had something to prove, and I think we did so pretty resoundingly.”
Four different Wildcats scored, with Jamie Milam picking up the game-winner at 12:37 in the third. Craig Kowalski had 31 saves in another outstanding effort in the NMU net.
“I said it when I got hired last June, and I said it many times over the course of the year: he will be the key to our hockey team,” said Kyle. “I can tell you that K-wall has had to cover for a lot of errors by young guys.
“More than that, what I appreciate in Craig, is that he’s a true leader on our team. He has a real composure about him, the ability to calm our team down — not only on the ice, but in the [locker] room.”
Kowalski saw few quality shots, but he was up to the task every time. In fact, the only Buckeye goal, credited to RJ Umberger, was actually deflected into the NMU net by Wildcat Peter Michelutti.
“One of our guys tipped it in, but he was just doing his job,” said Kowlaski. “If he didn’t do that, if that puck had gone all the way across the net to the backdoor, [OSU] probably would have scored anyway.
“We won the game, so who cares?”
After that early one-goal Buckeye lead at 12:06 in the first, the Wildcats came back to score four unanswered, and the only real intensity came in the third period, when NMU played a much more organized game than did OSU.
“We knew the magnitude of the game coming in,” said John Markell, OSU head coach. “Our kids understood that, and they certainly have to do some soul-searching there. If we do get into the position to play next week, all of the games are going to have that kind of pressure.
“We played a good game against Michigan.and lost our chance to play for a championship, and then we came out against a team that was as hungry as Northern was, knowing that they had to win this game.and we didn’t match their intensity.”
Markell said that after playing the second game last night, it was “tough to come back” for the early game today, but “that the experience is great, being here.”
Dirk Southern tied it up for NMU at 15:23 in the first, a shot that went in off of OSU netminder Mike Betz’s leg pad. The first period ended 1-1.
Jamie Milam’s game-winning goal at 12:37 in the second came from the left point on the NMU power play. Bryce Cockburn and Mike Stutzel each added a goal in the third.
One of OSU’s few good chances came at 12:37 in the second, a shorthanded breakaway that Kowalski stopped at close range. Kowalski also made a spectacular save on Miguel Lafleche at 11:50 in the third, a stanza in which the Buckeyes outshot the Wildcats 13-7.
“I would not trade him for any goaltender in the league,” said Kyle.
Given that the Buckeyes didn’t actually score their goal Saturday and were shut out by Michigan, 3-0, Friday, it’s been more than 120 minutes since OSU has lit the lamp, a concern for Markell should OSU be invited to the NCAA tournament.
One reason for the lack of scoring, said Markell, was the Buckeyes’ inability to convert power plays — and their ability to be their own worst enemy.
“Every time we had the power play, we kept nullifying it by taking a penalty,” said Markell. “I don’t know if it was fatigue or not, but we shot ourselves in the foot.”
Northern Michigan (22-17-2) and Ohio State (25-12-5) now play the waiting game. Each team holds onto hope that it will receive an NCAA tourney berth, though Ohio State’s case in the selection criteria is stronger.