COLUMBUS, Ohio — When the Mercyhurst Lakers came to Columbus to challenge the Ohio State Buckeyes, they knew they had to play one of their better games to compete with a nationally-ranked team, but to win they needed something only Ohio State itself could have provided — former Buckeye and current Mercyhurst assistant head coach, Dave Smith.
According to Rick Gotkin, Mercyhurst head coach, it was Smith’s pep talk after the first period that inspired the Lakers’ 3-2 upset victory.
“He’s very, very firm with our guys, and I think he went in and was disappointed that we really kind of watched that first period,” said Gotkin. “He basically said the way only Dave can say it, ‘We really have to — A — start to skate, and — B — really finish our checks.’
“Then he really summed it up best by saying that we looked like a team in the first period who was thinking that if we could win, it would have to be a fluke, and why would that have to be the case? Why would we have to have a 75-save effort from Andy Franck to beat Ohio State? Why can’t we just go out and play?
“We thought we could skate. We thought we could hit. We thought we could play.”
In the end, Franck made 28 saves, and the two goals he allowed were on the power play. The Lakers capitalized on two power plays themselves in the third period to take advantage of a frustrated Buckeye offense.
“I think they got two lucky goals, and there you are — you’re sitting there and you’re starting to press,” said OSU head coach John Markell. “The minute things don’t go our way we come back to unraveling a little bit, and that’s something we certainly have to address.
“Bad penalties in the offensive zone were something we talked about all week. I thought the effort was there in the first period. We came back in the third period. Their third goal, obviously, was a gift … but we have to overcome that.”
That gift was Peter Rynshoven’s game-winner at 10:41. After a Buckeye defender tried to clear the zone on the Laker power play, the puck trickled toward OSU goaltender Mike Betz, then squirted under and behind Betz to come to a stop in the crease. Betz tried to cover, but couldn’t get his glove on it before Rynshoven tapped it home.
“In any athletic event, at any level, there’s a little bit of luck in there,” said Gotkin. “The puck bounces one way, or the basketball or the football rolls a certain way, and there’s a little bit of luck there.”
It was more than luck that kept the Lakers in the game early. Franck was spectacular in the first period, turning away all 11 shots he faced as the Buckeyes threw everything they had at him, attempting a total of 25 shots in the opening 20 minutes.
Jon Asselstine’s first collegiate goal — and the only even-strength goal of the game — at 16:46 in the second gave Mercyhurst a 1-0 lead, a shot from directly in front of the Buckeye net that went clean through Betz’s five-hole.
Daymen Bencharski tied it up for OSU at 5:05 in the third on a Buckeye power play, a one-timer from the top of the slot, but Adam Tackaberry put the Lakers ahead again at 8:07, taking advantage of the confusion and a bouncing puck in the OSU crease with Buckeye Rod Pelley in the box for slashing.
Rynshoven’s goal made it 3-1 just over two minutes later, and in spite of OSU’s seeming second wind toward the end of the third, and a sharp goal by Buckeye captain J.B. Bittner at 16:06 to make it a one-goal game again, the night was clearly Mercyhurst’s.
“Obviously, I’m disappointed with the loss,” said Markell. “I thought they stuck to their game plan. Their goaltender held them in there the first period. I thought we dominated the first period and five-on-five hockey, but we had five offensive-zone penalties that destroyed any kind of momentum we were going to have.”
Mercyhurst was 2-for-8 on the power play; OSU was 2-for-5. Betz had 19 saves in the loss.
“Tonight, the stars lined up and we were rewarded for lots and lots of nights out of conference where we played hard and didn’t win,” said Gotkin.
Next up for Mercyhurst (1-1-0) is an away game against Canisius, Thursday, Oct. 30. Ohio State (4-3-0) hosts Alaska-Fairbanks Oct. 31 and Nov. 1.